Sunday, December 18, 2011

blackberry streusel muffins

do you remember summer? i know everyone's all excited about christmas and that's cool. i like christmas a lot. this is going to be the first christmas that mike and i have on our own, which sounds awfully grown up. i like having family time, too, of course, but i just saw my family in november and i'm sure we'll see mike's family soon as well. in the meantime, i'm just as glad to not have to brave the airport or otherwise make myself insane.

we've already talked at length about what to eat for a special holiday dinner. right now the contenders are duck (exciting, since i've never made it), halibut, or maybe just a roasted turkey breast. of course there will be broccoli casserole. roasted brussels sprouts will almost certainly make an appearance. there will be cocktails and there very well may be pie. i might even try my hand at fancy potatoes.

but right now i want to talk about blackberries and summer. ah, sweet sweet summer! this summer was the best in recent memory because it was not at all hot and i had very little in the way of responsibilities. it was awesome. in fact, blackberries were actually one of my heavier responsibilities, because i would pick cups of them and by the next day there were cups more that were ripe. i didn't want to waste them, so i was basically picking them every day. luckily, all the scratched arms and near-bee-stings were totally worth it, because now we have bags of berries in the freezer ready to pull out when winter seems all too much.

i adapted this recipe a bit from here. i didn't have any buttermilks, for one thing. i realize buttermilk is great and all in baked goods, but when i am thirsty, it is not the first thing i reach for. my mom and brother drink it plain, which i think is weird and southern.

so. start with a lemon. here is a good tip for when you are zesting something - move the zester, not the fruit. it is so so much easier. it will also cut down on the grated knuckles that most people don't much care for. you can also catch all of the zest in the thing, as above. this is only moderately helpful, if at all, but it's nice to know where you are with zest.

zest a whole lemon and divide it in half (the zest. well, you are going to want to cut the lemon at some point, too, so you can do that now, if you like). half goes into a big bowl and half into a quite small bowl or, if you're me, a washed-out thing from the bulk olive bar. we seem to have a thousand of those little things. they fall on me when i open the cabinet. good old celtic thrift!

the half that is in the tiny bowl/thing should be mixed with 3 tablespoons flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons finely cut pecans (or other nuts - i happened to have toasted pecans and rather than cutting them i just bashed them on the counter with a rolling pin. it totally worked), and 2 tablespoons melted butter. or you could use 3, if you like everything to be even. i like a good little pinch of salt in there, too. this will be the delicious streusel topping.

preheat the oven to 375. in the big bowl, add 2 cups of flour to the lemon zest. here is where it is nice to have a scale, though, because i used what appeared to be 2 cups of flour, but was definitely about 300 grams or about 11 ounces. add sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. mix those guys around a bit.

here i decided to use some grated apple in the place of some of the butter. i know applesauce is frequently used in place of some oil in recipes, and i think apples and blackberries go together well. applesauce is another thing i never have sitting around, though, so i used the microplane to grate about 1/3-1/2 of a small apple (~3-4 tablespoons, once grated). you also need an egg that's been beaten a little - next time i would just mix the apple and egg together and then add them to the flour mix.

since i didn't have buttermilk, i used 3/4 of a cup of regular 2% milk and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. i think usually when one makes ersatz buttermilk one would use a higher ratio of milk to lemon but that's all we had, so i made do like a pioneer. oregon trail! i'm sacagawea!

let the lemon juice and milk sit together for 5-10 minutes. the milk gets all curdley and unappetizing - just like buttermilk! it is a chemistry miracle. then add about 2 tablespoons of melted butter (did i brown that butter? yes i did!) and mix everything together (dry, wet, appley). with quick breads and muffins, you really want to be careful not to overmix. these things go from perfect to tough with a few overzealous turns of a wooden spoon.

once everything's basically incorporated, add the blackberries. i used a good 2 1/2 - 3 cups, and they were Very Blackberry-y (see top). they were definitely more like blackberries suspended in some muffin than they were muffins incorporating some blackberries. i like that, myself, but if you demand more sweet bready goodness i would use maybe like 2 cups (frozen) instead. these would obviously be great with fresh blackberries, too, but it might be somewhat hard to incorporate them whole - the batter is really really thick. just be careful, is all i'm saying. fold them in, don't stir them in.

then just scoop some up and stick it in well-greased muffin tins. these proportions made 12 good-sized muffins - i filled the tins basically to the top and then divided the delicious streusel topping over them. then just pop them in the oven (kind of towards the middle).

check these and maybe turn them around in your oven after 15-20 minutes. if you are using lots of frozen berries, they take perhaps 40 minutes or more, but keep a close eye on them. your oven may be better at cooking things than is mine. in fact, it probably is.

since the blackberries made me feel all summery, i ended up taking most of these to my old coworkers from my summer job. even though there were only two of them still in the office (the rest were on their vacations already), they fell upon them eagerly and with gusto. if you don't have any awesome former (or current) coworkers, you could make these for christmas morning - they keep perfectly well overnight, so you don't have to fiddle with stuff on the big day. or you could make them to celebrate a lazy weekend morning, if you are not of the christmas persuasion. instant summer!


streusel topping:
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons bits of nuts
2 tablespoons melted butter
zest from 1/2 a lemon
pinch of salt

2c/300g/11oz flour (these could maybe not be the same amounts, given flour's propensity for mismeasurement. get a scale!)
3/4 cup/~170g/6oz sugar (these were pretty sweet - i think you could cut it down to 1/2c, easily)
2 teaspoons/8g baking powder
1/2 teaspoon/2g baking soda
zest from 1/2 a lemon
big pinch of salt

1 large egg, beaten
3-4 tablespoons grated apple (or applesauce)
2 tablespoons melted butter (or you can use 5 tablespoons butter and omit the apple)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice (or use 1 cup buttermilk, if you keep that stuff around)

2 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (not thawed)

mix dry, add wet, stir only slightly, add blackberries, bake.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

roasted root vegetables with mustard/shallot/dill sauce

pity the poor parsnip. its name sounds like an old english measurement (a parsnip of your finest brandy, my good man!) and it looks like a pallid and misshapen carrot. even in the notably unattractive root vegetable family, the parsnip got hit with the ugly stick. its saving grace is that it is quite tasty. well, i guess that's actually its downfall - otherwise we'd probably leave it alone.

i had never cooked parsnips before making this dish. they were featured in a vegetable hash brunch dish i had last week, though, and despite being slightly undercooked, they were delicious. when i noticed them at the produce market later, i snapped some right up.

i decided to roast them, because that's what one should do with any vegetables and especially knobbly root ones. they get all caramelized and soften a little and toast up a little and just generally become much more friendly.

the members of the illustrious allium family are also well served by a trip to the oven. i like to roast scallions with most of their green tops still on - they get all melty and imbue the rest of the vegetables with a pleasant low-key onion flavor that won't attach to your breath like garlic does. you can eat roasted scallions and still go out on a hot date that night!*

*of course, by "go out on a hot date" i usually mean sit on the couch with three snoring dogs taking up most of the cushions, watching parks and recreation. is that not everyone's idea of a hot date? okaaay, then. nevermind. it's still not nice to have garlic breath.

you'll probably want to throw some carrots in there, too. mine were giant monster carrots, so i only used two, but use however many you need in order to end up with about the same amount of carrots and parsnips.

shallots! shallots are awesome in everything. i would probably even give shallot ice cream a try. i doubt that i'd like it, but i'd be willing to try it. that's how awesome shallots are. in everything.

so. alls you do is peel and cut up the carrots and parsnips. actually, first you should turn on the oven so it preheats. for some reason, i set mine at 415. just a little resistance to the oven temperatures-at-25-degree-increments hegemony, i suppose. if you want to do what The Man tells you, go ahead and set it at 425 or 400 and you may have to slightly adjust times accordingly (down or up, respectively, but you knew that, right? i'm sure you did - you're very clever. everyone thinks so).

cut the carrots and parsnips into wedges - i cut the larger parsnips into 1/6ths and the smaller ones in quarters. the carrots i cut in half crosswise and then into quarters. take the little whiskery bits off the bottoms of the scallions and maybe also the outer peel, if they're looking scroungy. trim the tops a bit, but you definitely want to leave most of the greenery intact. peel the shallots and cut them into chunks. shallots come in wildly different sizes, so just use your best judgment. i had mediumish ones and cut them in quarters. take this time to also mince one up for the sauce. you'll need about 2-3 tablespoons, minced.

toss everything together on a large sheet pan with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. then stick it in your now-hot oven and let it go for 20 minutes. if your vegetables are very small, you might check them after 15, but 20 was perfect for mine. then toss everything around a bit so some of the other sides get a chance to brown. it was at this point that i also added some (already cooked) chicken sausages that i'd halved lengthwise. if you don't have any sausages, i'm sorry, because they were good. put everything back in the oven for 10 minutes.

time to make the sauce! cook the minced shallot over medium heat in about a tablespoon of butter. once it starts smelling really good and getting the tiniest bit brown, add a tablespoon or two of vermouth (or white wine or chicken stock), a tablespoon of dijon mustard (ours happened to be grey poupon), a couple of squeezes of lemon juice (less than a tablespoon, more than a teaspoon), a tablespoon or two of fresh dill, and some salt and pepper. turn the heat down to medium-low and let it cook for perhaps 5 minutes. by then your roasty things should be just about done. if the sauce seems too thick, add some water or broth.

we had our deliciousness over rice, but i think it would also be good with mashed potatoes or some nice crusty bread. the sauce on its own would be good with things like roast chicken or salmon, too. from start to finish, the whole thing takes less than 45 minutes, half of which are unsupervised. not too shabby for a nice wintry roasted dinner to keep the cold at bay. not too shabby.

(you can't really see the sauce in this picture because it isn't there. but picture a nice sauce with lots of dill)

equalish amounts of carrots and parsnips (i used 5 small parsnips and 2 gigantor carrots)
1 bunch scallions (6?)
a few shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper
sausages, if desired

for the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
2-3 tablespoons minced shallot
1-2 tablespoons vermouth, wine, or stock
lemon juice
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (this made it quite mustardy, so feel free to use less if you want to tone it down)
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, torn into bits