Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Smitten Kitchen Sunday: One-Dish Strawberry-Rhubarb Bars and Maple-Cardamom-Bran Muffins with Peaches and Rhubarb

Consider this a little dance break from Everyday Favorites (although I wouldn't be surprised if the recipes herein become everyday favorites by next week). I just couldn't wait. Time is of the essence. Rhubarb is only in season for so long!

You see: I did some recipe testing for you. Just in case, you know, Smitten Kitchen Deb's seven years of beautiful, reliable blogging (with one memorable exception - learn from my mistake and the comments of disgruntled others and don't make it!), along with, say, her beautiful, reliable cookbook, hadn't yet won you over. Actually I'm fibbing. I didn't have you in mind at all. I just really wanted to eat rhubarb - the Minnesotan kind! from the ground! which is no longer frozen! - and I've had a near-fanatical muffin-making obsession lately. So, when recipes for rhubarb bars and, subsequently, fruity, hearty bran muffins appeared on SK's homepage in the last couple of weeks, it was just a matter of time. Specifically, time until the season-opener Mill City farmer's market (to get rhubarb, last weekend). Also for some reason it took me several trips to the grocery store before I remembered to buy bran. (A grocery list? What on earth is that? No. Way. That is genius. I'm on it. Next time.)

So I want to encourage you to make the strawberry-rhubarb bars because they are easy and delicious - definitely treat-like, and yet their sweetness is tempered by all those oats and punch of red fruit that's redolent of nothing less than spring - Spring - and all its sunshiny juiciness. They really are one-pan bars (you can even ditch measuring utensils if you use a scale, because Deb always ever so kindly provides weight measurements for her ingredients too). Here are pictures of mine (they aren't quite as tidy as the SK ones):


And here is a link to the recipe, which I followed as written, subbing whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose.

I'm storing them in the refrigerator and they taste v. nice cold.

My bran muffins are a little more complicated. I really wanted to not use all-purpose flour and struggled with the fact that this basically means I'm throwing all chances of lusciously domed muffins out the window. With great force. And not for lack of trying.


Whole wheat flour, not unlike gluten-free flours and blends, is tricky to work with. It hydrates differently, it can result in a texture anywhere from sandy to brick-like depending on who knows what all variables, and some people just don't find it tasty. I do find it tasty though, and have been inspired to sort out some 100% whole grain (well, in this case, plus bran) muffins for a couple reasons: (1) while wheat is back in our lives (hooray!), we still avoid barley (an ingredient in all-purpose flour) and anyway I (sometimes feebly) aspire to feed my family less processed/more whole foods; (2) my husband makes a killer 100% whole wheat bread. Have you ever tried that? It is HARD. Most bakeries don't even bother. But he does it week after week, with no dairy or eggs or sugar to help. It's never sandy. It's never brick-like. It tends to dome nicely. I have GOT to be able to manage a muffin then!

OMG. I can't believe you're still reading. Why are we even here anymore?

Because, muffin top or not, these muffins are SO FREAKING GOOD. And pretty healthy. And I am proud of them. I think I have to be proud of them because after I made rhubarb bars and bran muffins, I made more bran muffins. The Blue Sky Bran Muffin recipe just didn't work without the all-purpose flour gluten boost. But with some help from my friends at King Arthur Flour, I figured it out.

If you want a simple recipe with bran + all-purpose flour, go to Smitten Kitchen's Blue Sky Bran Muffin recipe. They look really good.

If you want a 100% whole wheat-fruit muffin recipe (no bran), try out this King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffin recipe. They have domes.

If you want a maple-cardamom spiced hybrid of the two - you've come to the right place! Because, well, while Take 1's muffins were super tasty, their centers sunk (that is the opposite of doming), plus the fruit all pooled to the bottom of the muffins and they ended up having kind of soggy underbellies.


Take 2, however - thank heavens, since it was getting late for this baker, tireless as she may seem - Take 2 resulted in just-enough sweet, structurally sound, perfect-crumbed, evenly-fruited whole wheat-oat bran muffins. They were everything I hoped for (minus the dome).

UntitledUntitled Perfect

And I think I'll stop rambling now because it seems about time, doesn't it?

Maple-Cardamom-Bran Muffins with [Fruit of Your Liking]
Yield: 12 muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and King Arthur Flour

Dry ingredients
1 1/2 cups (127 g) oat or wheat bran
1 1/4 cups (156 g) whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat flour, not whole wheat pastry flour)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup berries or finely chopped fruit, fresh or frozen (e.g. blueberries + nectarine; rhubarb + peaches)

Wet ingredients
1 1/3 cup buttermilk, or plain or vanilla yogurt thinned with a little milk
1/3 cup oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional, could just use 2 more tablespoons buttermilk or yogurt)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or - if you can get your hands on it, in which case you should - cardamom extract

Cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Whisk together dry ingredients, making sure no clumps of brown sugar or baking soda remain (I used my fingers for this; v. gratifying). Toss fruit with dry ingredients.

Whisk together all wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined. Allow batter to rest for 5-10 minutes (this allows wheat flour and bran to hydrate a little more, making the dough more workable). Give batter one more gentle stir to make sure fruit hasn't sunk to bottom.

Measure out 1/3-cup portions of batter into each muffin cup. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon-sugar if you'd like. Bake for 9 minutes. Rotate pan and bake another 9 minutes. Use a knife to test for doneness. Allow to cool in tin for 10 minutes, then remove to racks to cool a bit more. These are delicious warm but I can tell they are moist enough to stay good for a couple days stored in an airtight container, and indefinitely in the freezer. (Microwave frozen muffins for 30 seconds or bring them to work or school frozen and enjoy a thawed, room-temp one a few hours later.)

P.S. As of this evening, I have 28 muffins, 10 mini muffins, and 6 pieces of crumb cake in my freezer. If you're hungry, you should come over. (I also have vegan, nut- and gluten-free chocolate cupcakes.)

P.P.S. Look at this POT OF GOLD I just found!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Everyday Favorites: Red Lentils Gone Perfect

Sometimes, I start with a recipe. There are a lot of good recipes out there, you see. And no desire for newness or inclination towards creativity in the kitchen makes reinventing the wheel worthwhile (imho). There's also all that stuff from the first day of my Everyday Favorites series - that stuff about how trying to be really experimental seems at this point like a once-upon-a-time luxury whose sun set about the time my second child started eating solids. There are other people who actually have the time to be experimental with food and even get paid to do so - all for our benefit!

Food, May

Here are my favorite places (cookbooks, this time) to find good recipes:

America's Test Kitchen Mega Tome - it's almost, almost full-proof. Good resource for how to do classics right. Sometimes things require a little more time than my typical Everyday Favorites slapdash approach, but always worth it.

The Art of Simple Food.  Exactly what its title promises.

Around My French Table. Shockingly accessible. Uncompromisingly beautiful. Around Dorie Greenspan's French table, it's about skills and quality ingredients and good habits. All in the name of feeding the people you love and basking in the glow of their company. She makes you want to entertain.

The Breakfast Book. Old-fashioned pancakes-and-eggs perfection. It's the stuff bed-and-breakfast breakfasts are made of (and I say this only having had v. positive, albeit few, b&b experiences). This book has been a little neglected on account of our "strict avoidance" throughout the last two years, but as Beckett outgrows some of his food allergies and my husband and I grow a little more cavalier about what we allow him to try (don't worry, we're v. safe about it), I am hoping it will make a comeback.

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. Everyone calls this book welcoming, and that's exactly what it is. Melissa Clark (NY Times columnist and covert author of as many as half the cookbooks you own) is the kind of quirky you like in a best friend and the kind of bold you wish were yourself. I like her for all the reasons all the other bloggers like her, and also because I think she and I have strikingly similar palates.

These are all excellent cookbooks. The original recipe for the lentils came from that last one - which I'm going to go ahead and (channeling my inner Melissa Clark) boldly call my favorite cookbook of all time.

Food, MayFood, May

Melissa Clark's red lentil recipe is nearly perfect as written. She seasons hers with cumin and paprika, brightens them with a lot of lemon juice and chopped carrots, and includes enough liquid to call them soup. I made them as written several times and loved them (hence the several times). But I like my lentils thicker, less soupy. And as much as I love cumin, I like to mix it up with spices as often as I can (living three and a half blocks from a Penzey's will do this to you), so I messed around until I found my own bright, citrusy-curry assortment of spices. And of course I added a sweet potato and of course I tripled the fresh herbs and of course I threw in the zest of my lemon along with the juice. And of course I now make it this way all the time, because these red lentils are now, of course, perfect.

Food, MayFood, MayFood, May

I make a pot of these early in the week and eat them for lunch for the next few days. They are good piping hot, straight from the pot. Or warm, slathered on toast. Or room temp, spread on a pita, with some fresh feta. Or over some brown rice or quinoa, topped with diced avocado and radishes and a drizzle of olive oil. They freeze well too, so if I'm tired of them after a couple days, I'll put what's left in an old yogurt container and freeze them until I crave them and/or have nothing to eat in my refrigerator.

Food, May

Spiced Red Lentils with Sweet Potatoes
Makes ~4 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
½ an onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
½ cup other veggies you like, chopped (e.g. fennel, bell pepper, jalapeño if you want some heat)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional, but nice)
1 teaspoon each: ground fenugreek seeds, ground galangal, ground coriander*
½ teaspoon each: salt and pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 cup red lentils
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed clean and cut into ½” dice
Large handful cilantro and/or mint (or, heck! the whole bunch!), finely chopped

* Could substitute either 2 teaspoons curry powder, or 1 teaspoon cumin + 1 teaspoon coriander + 1/2 teaspoon (smoked/hot/whatever you like) paprika

In a large pot, heat the oil over high heat. Add onions, carrot, celery, and other vegetables of choice, and cook for 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, lime or lemon zest, salt, pepper, and spices of choice and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add broth, water and lentils. Bring to a simmer, then add sweet potatoes. Add a little more water if necessary – you want just enough to barely cover everything. Return to boil, then lower heat to medium-low, partially cover pot and simmer until lentils are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Give everything a good stir. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Remove from heat. Stir in lemon or lime juice and fresh herbs.