Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A Very Nice Vegan Bran Muffin + other kitchen exploits

Well, good morning! It is bright and blue out my window, so I felt sort of gut-punched walking my littlest to the bus stop this morning, buffeted by an unanticipated onslaught of gusty, dusty nonsense. We're on the tail-end of a disorienting, disturbingly mild winter in Minneapolis: the driest, brownest, absolutely most boring one I've yet to experience in my score-and-some-change tenure here. I longed for snow all through December, January, and February - a little dusting to brighten up the oddly displayed dead and dormant everywhere; maybe a thicker blanket on the weekends so we could go sledding? As this point though, I'm over it and have traded in my winter-want for real spring readiness. Usually spring is sort of a hypothetical season in this part of the world but I figured after our non-winter, anything was possible. And that very well may be, but last week's upper 60s turned into to this morning's "feels like 5" and now the pros say we could get 20 inches of snow starting tomorrow night and into next week, or maybe a fraction of that in rain, or maybe nothing. And here I am, a proper Minnesotan doing what Minnesotans do best: lament the weather. (This paragraph and entire post are my writing warm-ups today. If you're interested in seeing what I've been writing and sharing elsewhere, please check out my recent ramblings on Writing It Out.)

When it's irritatingly cold out, I like to bake. Since the weather dipped last week, I've baked two batches of cookies and two kinds of muffins, and I thought I'd tell you about all four, and share the muffin recipe. 

First: Chocolate Chip Cookies. My middle child found this recipe and it's a crowd-pleasing keeper. We used a mix of milk and white chocolate chips, plus those crazy can't-stop-won't-stop seasonal salted caramel chips from Trader Joe's. Speaking of my middle child... here he is doing an impression of his mom.


It's true. I have always liked to rest my right leg on a tall counter and there is no place my hand prefers to be than holding a warm mug of coffee.

Second: cookie number two, and a mini-review of Amy Thielen's Company, a gorgeous, characteristically inviting cookbook full of decadent, homesteader-meets-James Beard recipes, most of which fall into my too-hard or too-carnivorous or too-many-ingredient buckets. I spent a couple weeks browsing my library copy, wished someone would concoct some of the too-hard treasures for me, and tried out a handful of recipes that seemed novel as well as manageable --- with mixed results. I tried a "ramen brittle" recipe that seemed so promising - a salad-crunch option that wasn't nut-based! Right out of the oven it was addictively salty-sweet delicious. But by the time it had firmed up and got tossed into salad, the clusters had gone jawbreaker on us, and while the flavor was good and interesting, it was not worth a dental emergency. Perhaps a different brand of ramen would not be so hazardous? (Insert shoulder shrug emoji.) I went on to have two successes: Apricot Snickerdoodles (a solid snickerdoodle dough recipe, but filled with a homemade jam made from dried apricots - SO, SO GOOD) and Parmesan Cream Dressing (from the "Winter Slaw" recipe), which was absolutely posh-restaurant-level exceptional and which I absolutely cannot wait to make again. 

Third: these Zucchini Muffins from Pinch of Yum. I make these often and invariably mess with the recipe and they invariably turn out great. This time, in an effort to make them lunchbox-worthy nutritious, I omitted the maple syrup, subbed yogurt for the oil, and added some protein powder. (Note: the recipe requires a VitaMix or something comparable.) 

Finally, the main course! Tim from Chicago, who spottily maintains a food blog of the same vintage as yours-truly's, recently recommended a bran muffin recipe that had been posted on yet another fine-aged blog circa 2011... I gave it a veganized go (and cut the recipe in half, because I literally don't have a bowl big enough to accommodate the full recipe's amount of batter) and am so glad I did! If you have buttermilk and eggs, go ahead and make the original recipe! But if you're interested in a vegan variation, you've come to the right place!




A couple notes:

- Batter should be prepared ahead of time, so that the bran, whole wheat flour, and oats can soak and soften. I soaked mine overnight and made six muffins this morning. 

- The batter can keep in the refrigerator for a week or more, so I plan to just make small batches of fresh-from-the-oven muffins every few days. I think the addition of fresh or frozen blueberries or dried fruit would be lovely, though I did not include those in this morning's production.

Otherwise, here you go!

Vegan Bran Muffins
Adapted from Sweet Sugar Bean
Yield: 18-24 muffins

1 cup boiling water
1 cup wheat or oat bran
2 cups soy or other milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or distilled vinegar
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup ground flax seed
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups thick or "old-fashioned" oats
sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, optional (for topping)

In a medium-sized bowl, pour the boiling water over the bran.  Let stand 10 minutes.  

In a very large bowl, whisk together soy milk and vinegar and set aside for 5 minutes or so. Add applesauce, oil, sugar, molasses, ground flax seeds, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add flour and stir until just moistened, no more floury streaks. Stir in bran and oats. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator to soak for at least two hours, or overnight. 

When you're ready to make muffins, preheat oven to 350 and grease a muffin tin. Scoop the batter, until 3/4 full, sprinkle with seeds of your liking and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the tops have risen and spring back when touched.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Tres Leches Rice Pudding (amazing *if you like* rice pudding)

I hate to include a caveat in the title, because this rice pudding is unequivocally absolute next-level rice pudding perfection, and I want to encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest in rice pudding to go make this yesterday and swim in its horchata-style glory. A caveat's inherent misgivingness sort of cuts against my zeal.


BUT. I want you to know that I wouldn't post anything here that wasn't worth posting! How can you trust me on that if I'm not totally honest?

The deal is this: I grew up eating rice pudding (and just a lot of rice, generally) and I love it and I love horchata and I love tres leches cake and typically I welcome an interesting mouthfeel, particularly if what's in my mouth is dead delicious. Moreover: I'm at a point in my midlife home chef / recipe connoisseur journey where it's tough for a recipe to surprise me, i.e., I wouldn't try it if I didn't have a pretty good sense of how it might result, and my sense is pretty reliable. Therefore: This recipe, adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, was a no-brainer for me. To boot: The outcome wildly exceeded my fairly high expectations. And yet: Only two of our household of five appreciate this rice pudding, and I can only surmise that this division among us relates to some kind of misguided, essentialist, "it's a texture thing" rice pudding-aversion on the part of the losers (because, I assure you, the haters are the ones losing out here).

All that to mean: I don't want to pretend this is one of those bogus recommendations a la, "This will make a mushroom lover out of your mushroom-hating spouse!" Or, "Your family won't even taste the rice!"

This recipe isn't going to change anyone's palates. It will simply reward those with the right palate. 

My adaptations were minor: I adjusted proportions and "milks" based on what I had and what I like, and I thickened the pudding with a cornstarch slurry in lieu of an egg.


Tres Leches Rice Pudding
Yield: serves 8

2 cups cooked white rice*
2 tablespoons cornstarch, arrowroot, or tapioca starch
1 cup (8 oz) milk (any kind! I used plain soy milk; the original recipe recommends canned evaporated milk; any refrigerated cow milk would work fine)
One 13.5-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
One 12.5-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cinnamon sticks or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

To finish, if you'd like: fresh whipped cream, berries, a dust of cinnamon

Pour your first milk into a large measuring cup. Whisk in the cornstarch or alternative until there are no dry clumps.

Stir the coconut and sweetened condensed milks into the rice, then add the cornstarch-milk mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Drop in the cinnamon sticks, or stir in the ground cinnamon. Place the pan on the stove and cook the mixture over low-medium heat, stirring every couple minutes so it doesn't stick or burn, until about 90 percent of the liquid is absorbed (about 25 minutes). Remove from heat, and carefully remove the cinnamon sticks, if you used those. Stir in the vanilla extract, then divide the pudding among 8 serving dishes. Deb suggests that you keep the puddings in the fridge until fully chilled, about 1 to 2 hours. And, practically speaking, of course that makes sense for a make-ahead dessert. But it ALSO makes sense to eat a (modest) bowl of this warm from the pot. It's a very decadent alternative to your morning oatmeal. You're welcome.

Dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on top of each bowl of rice pudding, top with some fresh berries, dust with ground cinnamon, then enjoy.

* If you are starting with dry rice, you'll need 3/4 cup uncooked white rice. Put it in a medium saucepan with 3/4 teaspoon salt and cover with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a low boil, cover with tight-fitting lid, and cook for 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and proceed with recipe above.

Friday, January 5, 2024

For A Crowd: Mom's White Chili

Hey! Speaking of missing mom's cooking...

Today I'm posting for posterity a much-beloved recipe that covers a million bases often left vacant in this household, despite a mom's best efforts. What are these bases? you wonder. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

EVERYONE LIKES IT! Except for like one week when one child, who requested it the time before, changed their mind. Some kids just like to remind you that humans always have the right to change their minds. Even on their birthdays, or visiting grandparents who make white chili because you said it was their favorite, or right when you get to the front of the Velocicoaster line, which you've sweatily endured for something like three hours. And it's true: human prerogative. Anyway, except for that one kid that one week, everyone likes this and asks for the recipe. (And now I can just say, check the blog!)

Makes a lot of chili. I guess that's one of the defining features of chili, right? Lots of it? And yet, I can't take the volume of this recipe for granted. Too much food has never been one of my kitchen problems. We waste little and the children are all quite big and continuing to bigger their bigness and they're quite physically active to boot and, so, they need a lot of food, and yet, despite being aware of this fact on a daily basis - admiring the hems of their pants ascending further from their shoes than is ideal from a fashion/warmth perspective, meeting a straight-on eyeballs gaze where once was a forehead - I find myself vaguely plagued by some misguided Depression-era frugality when I'm at the grocery store, thinking to myself, "should I double the recipe? No. That's a lot of chicken." Or beans. Or whatever. And then, invariably, we don't have enough dinner. It's a thing. But! Here, I don't even have to double it! It's just loads of dinner, in one pot, following one recipe, no multiplication required. Which brings me to...

It's super easy. There's barely even any chopping! No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients. Just your basic staples and some chicken (or no chicken, if you go the veggie route, but then a little more chopping).

Big on flavor, short on time. Seriously. Start to finish this takes 30 minutes, only 15 of which I'd consider "active" time.

Vegetarian option is just as good as the chicken version! I mean, I personally prefer it with chicken. But! If you're not a carnivore, the meatless option is delicious. (I enjoyed it for lunch just this afternoon and, no complaints.)

There are accoutrements! It's like El Ranchito circa 2001, my friends. Need I say more? Oh, I do? On the rocks with extra salt? What do you mean you're closing? I'm picturing an adult male blonde named Ben crashing our party? We met on the internet and he was perhaps in the FBI or was a designer of WMDs? And every second he spent at our table was cringily awkward but also magical, due to a combustive combination of tequila and salt and heaps of jalapeños and onions and the kind of friendship that makes you want time to stand still? (And, scene.) 

(A thought: Taylor Swift laments a lost love like so: You painted all my nights a color I have searched for since. I stopped searching (thanks, therapy!) but can still quite readily, lovingly, vividly conjure a nostalgic longing for my Newport Beach posse. Those nights were a bold, energizing color.)


I digress! This chili is not Mama Avila's soup, but it is MAMA EDITH's soup! And I don't just mean me, the Edith in Cake and Edith. I also mean my mom, who is also named Edith. (True story!) My Mom Edith makes this soup especially for me when we are visiting one another because it's been a favorite of mine since my consumption repertoire consisted of five very particular things (four of which were refined carbohydrates). My Mom Edith is pretty famous for making consistently, impressively spectacular food, and always more than enough of it.


Also, did I mention that EVERYONE LIKES THIS CHILI? I really can't downplay that one. You know those admirable folks who have to try out a recipe before they make it for company? Maybe you are one of them, even? Okay, so if you are, take a break this time! Everyone will like your risky new white chili recipe on your first go. I promise! Go get a pedicure instead.

Mom's White Chili
This recipe is slightly adapted from a New Mexico restaurant-specific cookbook (I'll give proper credit after some research!)
Yield: 10-15 servings

4 tablespoons butter or olive oil (or a mix)
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed if you like less heat, minced (optional)
1 cup uncooked white rice
3 quarts vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 cans (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans, undrained
2 cans (15.5 oz) hominy, undrained (I can only find 25.5 oz cans of hominy, so I use just one of those)
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see below for vegetarian variation)
2 cans (4 oz) diced green chilies (OR, you could use one large poblano chili - dice and sauté with onion and jalapeño)
Salt and pepper

For serving: lime wedges, crumbled queso fresco, pico de gallo, thinly sliced cabbage, cilantro, sliced avocado, tortilla chips

In a large soup pot, melt butter or heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, half a teaspoon salt, and jalapeno, if using (and poblano, if you go the fresh route), and sauté for 5 minutes. Add rice and sauté until rice is opaque. Add broth, cumin and coriander, garbanzo beans and hominy with their liquids, chicken, and diced green chilies. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and shred or dice into bite-sized pieces. Return to the pot. Taste and adjust for seasoning. You might need to add salt, depending on how salty your broth and bean liquids are.

Serve with accoutrements. And a margarita??

Vegetarian Version: Omit the chicken. Add two large chopped carrots and two peeled and chopped parsnips when you add the broth, etc. It's veggie-centric and tasty! 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Resolving to Eat More Vegetables for Dinner: Caprese Orzo Salad

In January, we eat healthier! Here, let me show you.


This is our go-to lately for healthy meets crowd-pleasing. It makes a big enough batch for five decent-sized dinners (supplemented with another veggie side, in this case roasted delicata squash) and next-day lunches for two. My middle schooler brings it in a thermos to school as a break from the tragic tedium of sunbutter and jam sandwiches, which he has opened his lunchbox to discover in disappointment approximately 840 times in the last 7.5 years. (I just did some actual math to come up with that estimate and now can see why he's over it.)


I start with a bunch of baby greens, chopped with kitchen shears into bite-sized bits. Then I add halved baby tomatoes, orzo, shallot, a good amount of basil, fresh mozzarella pearls, chickpeas (or sometimes brown or green lentils that I cook for ten minutes in salted water before adding the orzo and shallot) and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Toss and let's eat. Except not so much let's eat right away, because this is a good make-ahead option, so it's more like, toss and put in fridge for folks to grab in between evening commitments, which are many during this thick, frenetic, delightful era we currently occupy.

If you try it, I hope you like it! And I also hope that someday, after my children have fled the nest but before the world's gone post-electric, this website can be a resource to them when they crave mom's food but just can't stomach another SBJ sandwich.

Caprese Orzo Salad
Yield: 6 servings

1 cup orzo
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
5-oz bag baby spinach or baby kale (or any kind of sturdy but soft greens you like, about 3 cups)
1 pint tiny tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned, drained chickpeas
8-oz package of mozzarella pearls (drained if they are water-packed)
Big handful of basil
Your favorite sweetish vinaigrette (or mine, see below)

Optional additions that are nice if you like these things: big handful of parsley, tablespoon of capers, chopped up artichoke hearts or olives from a can

Bring about a quart of salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add orzo and shallot and cook until al dente (about 8-9 minutes). Strain and set aside to cool in strainer.

Meanwhile: chop up your spinach and halve your tomatoes. Thinly slice your basil and any other additions you're going with. Put everything in a large bowl, drizzle with vinaigrette, and toss. Taste and add some more salt, pepper, acid (lemon juice or vinegar), or oil if needed.

For my "vinaigrette," I just drizzle/zest/sprinkle all these ingredients on the salad before tossing (amounts listed are best-guesses. Of course adjust according to your palate's preference!)...

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave or date syrup (Trader Joe's sells a tasty, affordable date syrup, which is the drizzle you see in the photos)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Penzey's lemon pepper (which has salt in it AND which makes everything taste delicious)