Sunday, March 25, 2012

Muffins Against Muffin Tops

Last year, I was informed of a wonderful grain called quinoa. Quinoa is special because it's a grain, but also is a complete protein. How cool is that?  It's also high in fiber, calcium and potassium and is gluten free. It cooks like rice, and has a nifty chewy texture.  How did I go so long without knowing about it?

Anyway, I was looking for a healthy-ish snack that I could eat during my ridiculously long commute so I could get home and exercise without falling into the trap of being hungry and just making dinner. I needed something I could eat with a minimum of fuss and that would satisfy me without making me feel too full to run. I finally settled on quinoa muffins. I figured that muffins – Costco-style aside – are small, so the caloric content couldn't get too high, and if I made them with quinoa, they would have more in the way of nutrition.

I no longer have the long commute, but I am pregnant and find it increasingly hard to make it to lunch wihtout eating something. These muffins fill the bill – one is just enough to satisfy me without tempting me to eat a double lunch or large amounts of snack foods.

I started with this basic recipe fromMartha Stewart. I was trying to make it a little healthier, though, so I reduced the sugar and replaced it with more dried fruit. I could probably reduce the sugar more – next time I'm going to. If I remember. I know dried fruit isn't completely low-cal or healthy, but at least there are some nutrients in it other than, well, sugar.

I also replaced some of the flour with whole wheat flour and ground flax, which had surprisingly little impact on the taste (I've since made them both ways, so I can compare). These are not super-sweet muffins, but the dried fruit gives them enough sweetness that they satisfy the desire for something sweet while not being cake in disguise. They also have a nice variety of texture – muffiny with little dots of chewiness from the quinoa and fruit – that make them feel a bit more substantial.

Butter doesn't make them healthier.  Weird.
My final recipe:
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as safflower, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour*
  • ½ cup ground flax*
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour*
  • ½ cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1+ cups assorted dried fruit**
  • 3/4 cup whole milk***
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*original recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour
**original recipe calls for ½ cup raisins
***non-fat would work just fine, but we always have whole milk for Zoey
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and 1 cup water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, 11 to 13 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, brush a standard 12-cup muffin pan with oil; dust with flour, tapping out excess. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, raisins, and 2 cups cooked quinoa; reserve any leftover quinoa for another use.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, milk, egg, and vanilla. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, and stir just until combined; divide batter among prepared muffin cups.
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool muffins in pan, 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
This recipe makes 12 muffins, if you fill the tins all the way to the top. You could probably get 15 muffins out of each batch, but since that means either dirtying another pan or doubling the overall cooking time, I always just fill 'em up.

I make a double batch and then freeze them; each day I pull one out and by the time I'm on my prep period, it's thawed out and ready to go. These aren't going to win any awards for Healthiest Snack Of All Time, but they have some good nutritional benefits, are filling, and are enough of a treat that I don't have to convince myself that they're the smart option and I should enjoy them more - I really do enjoy them.
My niece, Gen, approves of these muffins!

Nutrition info (courtesy of
Calories per muffin: 219
Total Fat 7.45g (11%)
Saturated Fat 1.1g (5%)
Cholesterol 20.1mg (6%)
Sodium 267.6mg (11%)
Total Carbohydrate 34.46g (11%)
Dietary Fiber 2.98g (11%)
Sugars 15.69g
Protein 4.86g (9%)
Percentages are all % of Daily Value.

Linked to This Week's Cravings via the Daily Dish

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

I'm Burning, I'm Burning, I'm Burning For You

Just one?  Please?
Sriracha.  Shrimp.  Pineapple.  How can you go wrong with this combination?  These little morsels of goodness are so tasty that even my mother, who can taste – and exclaim over the heat of – the presence of a single speck of chili powder in a recipe, will eats them. Zoey probably would too, but I won't let her. For one, I don't want to learn what it's like when a toddler eats something way too spicy. Also, I'm afraid she'd like them too much and I just don't want to share.

I first made these for my best friend's 30th birthday party. I got the basic recipe from The Pioneer Woman (it's where I get a lot of my recipes – check it out for tasty good times!). The original recipe calls for stringing 5-6 shrimp on a skewer, but since the guest list was large and my wallet is not, I had to find a more economical way of making them without seeming like I was cheaping out.

I finally landed on the idea of putting a single shrimp on the skewer with a chunk of pineapple. Then I stuck the skewers in half-spheres of floral foam for presentation. It looked so nice, that I didn't take a picture. Not only did it look a little fancier, but the sweetness and acidity of the pineapple complements the spiciness of the shrimp nicely. Since then, I've made these for myself and for just about every party I've hosted or helped plan. I'm on standing orders to tell my dad when I make them. They really are that good. -

I start with a 2-lb bag of frozen shrimp. I generally try and find a bag that has about 50 shrimp/lb because that way I get more servings. Larger shrimp work well, but I find with these (especially if they're for a party) quantity counts, because they'll go fast!

Gooped up and ready to go!
After thawing and peeling the shrimp – which always takes at least twice as long as it feels like they should, and makes me wonder why I felt the need to make the full two pounds of shrimp – I add the goodies: Sriracha (which most people know as 'that hot sauce with the rooster on it'), garlic, sugar, and olive oil.

I generally just eyeball the measurements – a spoon or so of sugar, a couple heaping spoons of minced garlic (I always have a jar of the pre-minced stuff on hand), somewhere in the neighborhood of ¼ cup of olive oil, and about half a bottle of Sriracha, which is more than the original recipe calls for, but I prefer to have too much heat than not enough.

Dump it all into a large Ziploc bag and shake well to coat all the shrimp evenly. Then chuck the bag in the fridge for an hour or more to marinate. I usually let it sit overnight because I like to split up the labor on this – it's another one of those easy-but-repetitive recipes.

Once the shrimp have marinated, it's assembly time. Open three cans of pineapple chunks and put into a bowl for easy grabbing. If you are a kind parent, remember to drain off the juice for your darling daughter before you contaminate it with spicy shrimp juice. Get a good pile of toothpicks ready. Then add some more – you'll need them.

Lined up and ready to, broil!
Each toothpick gets one shrimp and one pineapple chunk. Repeat. Repeat again. Keep going until you wonder why in the world you decided the smaller shrimp were the best bet. Resist the temptation to rub your eyes. Keep going.

Once all of the shrimp are on the toothpicks (and any extra shrimp or pineapple are also skewered), it's time to cook them. These cook quickly – 2-3 minutes per side under the broiler or on the grill. I usually use the broiler just for simplicity's sake.

I never fail to eat one immediately and come to the conclusion that all of the tedium involved in making them was worth it and worry that maybe I didn't make enough. These are excellent when served hot. And chilled. They'd probably be good at some stage in the middle, but they won't last that long. Trust me on this; you won't have to worry about these sitting out too long and possibly spoiling. The biggest problem is making sure you don't put them out too early before people arrive. It's embarrassing to eat all the hors d'oeuvers before the guests even have a chance.
Seriously, make these today.  You won't regret it!
As far as party treats go, these aren't the cheapest, but they're far from the most expensive.  A bag of shrimp usually costs between $10-15, and the pineapple is around $1/can.  Keep your eyes open, though, because every so often the shrimp goes on sale and you can stock up.   The bag I used for this batch was only $8.

I've also made a small batch of these shrimp and sauteed them up to serve over pasta. It's delicious (and a fraction of the time investment), but not nearly as addicting and fun as the appetizers.

The original recipe:
1 pound large (16 to 20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined.
2 tablespoons hot chili sauce (Sriracha is the best!)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 5 cloves garlic, pressed
Combine all ingredients in a large Ziploc bag, then add shrimp and marinate for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Skewer shrimp and grill until opaque and brown, with black bits.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pierogi, pierogi, pierogi!

Our goal this year is to make one item in bulk each month to stock up and build diversity in our freezer. This month, I decided to try pierogis. This was partly inspired by a bookmarked recipe I've been meaning to try for a while, but even more inspired by the fact that pierogis are cheap as all get-out to make. The main ingredients, after all, are all-purpose flour and potatoes.

I had never made them before, so I did use a little sense and make one test batch a couple of weeks ago. That turned out well, so I thought “Hey, I should make FOUR batches at once and freeze them!” Turns out one batch is quite a bit easier than four, even without cooking them. A little logic probably could have told me that, had I chosen to use it. Where's the fun in logic, though?

All four fillings lined up and ready to go
I used the recipe from For my test batch, I only made the cheese filling, mostly because I didn't have the ingredients for the green onion oil filling. This time around, I decided to make four different fillings: cheddar, green onion oil, bacon/cheddar, and spinach/bacon/pepperjack.

I had to make some adjustments for specific items the recipe called for, which I dind't have. For example, I don't have a 2.5” biscuit cutter. I do, however have a wine glass that's almost exactly 2.5” in diameter, so that's what I used. Classy all the way, that's me!

The dough is soft and slightly sticky. It's also stretchy, which is helpful because it didn't fold easily around the filling – the edges didn't quite meet, so I had to stretch the dough a bit to make it work. (Rolling it more thinly and using a larger cutter might have also worked, but this was easy enough for the most part). I found that I had to maximize the number of circles I could cut out on each roll, because re-rolling the dough made it significantly tougher, so getting a good wrap and seal became more difficult.

The recipe also calls for a small cookie scoop to measure out the potato filling. I don't own a cookie scoop (and if I did, I'd have a large scoop because when it comes to cookies, size matters!) A little research revealed that a small scoop is the equivalent of about two teaspoons. I measured out about that much and just used that as a guide for how big to make all the filling balls. It worked decently, although by the end, they edged up in size as I was more and more eager to just be DONE already.It helps to have the potato mixture fully cool before you roll it, too, to minimize the amount of potato that sticks to your hands.

Rolling the balls by hand wasn't hard, but having the scoop would have made it quicker and easier – if I find more recipes that call for a cookie scoop, I will probably invest in one - like I need a reason to get more kitchen stuff! It's not really necessary, but – especially for recipes that make 100+ of something – a scoop would cut down on the time investment some. Spending less time on something is always better!

Most of a batch of cheddar filling
With a single batch, I was able to get all the potatoes peeled and on the stove while my Kitchenaid kneaded the dough. Even with cooking and assembling the filling, I plenty of time to sit and relax while the dough raised. With four batches...not so much. I spent the entire one hour rise time peeling, cutting, boiling, mashing, mixing, and rolling the potato filling. Then I had to cut the dough and assemble the pierogis. The moral of the story: don't make a quadruple batch of these bad boys unless you have a helper!

They're nice and bite-sized
The process is fairly simple – make the dough, mash some potatoes with various added ingredients, then wrap the dough around the filling. Even with four different fillings, the process wasn't hard, just time consuming. The overall process took around two hours, although it would have gone more quickly if I had recruited Randy to help from the beginning, rather than thinking “this isn't hard, I'll breeze right through it!”

When all the pierogis were assembled, I layered them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and put them in the chest freezer to flash freeze (which surprisingly doesn't mean “quick freeze”; it just means they freeze spread out so they stay separate when you put them in a larger bag. Go figure.) for a couple of hours. Honestly, they could have used more time in the freezer but a) I'm impatient and b) I didn't want to forget about them and leave them in there for days on end to get freezer burned.

I made packs of 10 pierogis (four is a nice size for a side dish) and put them in ziplocs. I would have used my food saver, but they weren't fully frozen yet, so I was concerned about squashing them. Now I'm out of ziplocs (each batch makes around 50 pierogis) but my freezer is looking better.

Dough Recipe
3 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1 cup water
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt 

Put flour in a large shallow bowl and make a well in centre. Add water, egg, oil, yeast, and salt to well and carefully beat together with a fork without incorporating flour*. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating flour, until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (dough will be very soft). Invert a bowl over dough and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

*Or, do what I did and just dump it all in the Kitchenaid with the dough hook and let the machine do all the work.

While the dough rises, make the potato filling.  Once the dough is risen,  roll out 1 half (keep remaining half under inverted bowl) on lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 15-inch round (1/8 inch thick), then cut out 24 rounds with lightly floured cutter.  Cut out a 2.5”-3.5” circle of dough and wrap around the filling (if you cut the dough larger, roll it thinner. This is essential both to have enough dough to use all the filling and to prevent the final pierogi from being too doughy.

Filling recipes:
Cheddar filling
4 medium potatoes
6-8 oz grated cheddar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” squares. Boil until fork-tender, then mash and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so. Add remaining ingredients to the cooled mashed potatoes and mix well

Green onion oil filling  (from the same website as the dough)
4 medium potatoes
1/2 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 to 1 cup)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 small knob of ginger, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” squares. Boil until fork-tender, then mash and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so.
Heat the canola oil in a small pot over high heat. When the oil is shimmery and hot, add the green onions, garlic, shallot, and ginger. Be careful, the water content will cause the oil to bubble. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Salt to taste.

Bacon/cheddar filling
4 medium potatoes
4 oz grated cheddar
2 slices bacon*
1 T bacon grease
½ tsp garlic powder
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” squares. Boil until fork-tender, then mash and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so.
Finely dice the bacon and cook until crispy. Drain, reserving about 1 T of the grease. Mix all ingredients, including grease, into cooled mashed potatoes. Salt to taste.
*this was not actually as bacon-y as I had hoped. Next time, I'll use three or four pieces of bacon instead of just two. Two was an attempt to be moderate. Silly me.

Spinach/bacon/pepperjack filling
4 medium potatoes
4 oz grated pepperjack
2 slices bacon
1 T bacon grease
½ box of chopped spinach, drained

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” squares. Boil until fork-tender, then mash and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so.
Finely dice the bacon and cook until crispy. Drain, reserving about 1 T of the grease. Squeeze as much liquid from the spinach as possible. Mix all the ingredients into cooled mashed potatoes.

Just get them a nice golden brown
To cook the pierogis, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the pierogis for five minutes after they start to float. Remove from water and drain, then fry in olive oil or butter for 3 minutes or so on each side. This should give it a nice crisp crust. The texture of these is great – crisp outer layer, with a chewy dough and soft filling.

A batch makes 48-50 pierogis; if you're cooking an entire recipe, batches of 12 seem to work out the best – it leaves room for them to move around in the pot and have some room between them in the frying pan. Also, it lets you assemble the next batch while the first one is cooking.

Next month's stock-up recipe: Egg rolls!

This post is linked to Made From Scratch Mondays at The Daily Dish

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beans, beans, the musical fruit

Beans are a wonderful staple – healthy, versatile, and cheap. However, they can be a pain in the butt to use when bought in their cheapest state: dried.

Black beans and red beans canned & ready!
You have to soak them for a while, then cook them for hours more. how long each of these steps takes depends on who you listen to and what technique you use, but it never fails to take several hours for me to fully cook beans. Sometimes, this isn't a problem – I've planned ahead for chili or bean soup, etc. and leave myself plenty of time to cook. However, more often, I'm looking for ideas for dinner and want to use some beans in burritos or red beans and rice, etc. At this point, I have to rely on canned beans

To buy canned beans, it costs around a $1/can. That sounds pretty cheap until you realize that beans cost between $0.50-$1.75/lb, depending on the type, and a pound of dried beans yields between four and five times as many cooked beans as a can provides. That's a pretty significant savings, not to mention letting you control the sodium content (which can be ridiculous in any canned goods).

Therefore, we decided we'd can our own beans. I grew up watching my mom can various things, and have done quite a bit of canning on my own, although most of my canning has been of the jams/dessert type. A few years ago, Randy got me a pressure canner, and that opened up a world of new options, since there are many foods – beans included – that require a pressure canner rather than just a water bath.

We started with a big bag of red beans from the bulk bin. I didn't weigh it, but I'd estimate it was between two and three pounds. In looking up how to can beans, I found alternating theories. Some people said to soak the beans for 8-12 hours, some said to use the 'fast soak' method (bring to a boil, turn off and let sit for an hour), and some said just put the dried beans in a jar and cover with water. some point, put beans in jar, then can. Helpful. I have canned black beans before, using both the slow and fast soaking methods. While they came out pretty well, there were always a few that ended up smushed at the bottom of the jar.

For this batch, decided to experiment. While at least partially cooking the beans before canning makes sense, fully cooking them seems like a bad idea, since they cook more in the canner. We set one cup of dried beans aside, and used the fast-soak method on the rest. We put most of the beans in pint jars, except the cup of dried beans, which went in a half-pint, and one half-pint of the soaked beans so we could do a comparison that night at dinner.

We canned them all at once and almost couldn't fit them all in. We had a dozen or so jars and ended up having to lay a couple on their sides on top to get them in.

Doesn't it just make you want to dig right in?
The result: I'm not sure WHY I thought the dried beans would come out the same as the soaked beans. Wishful thinking and my fondness of shortcuts, I suppose. This might work if you only filled the jar 1/3-1/2 full of beans and then added water, but Just no. I'm glad we only did this with one half-pint jar.

A noticeable difference, even in the jar

The beans we canned using the fast-soak method, on the other hand, turned out wonderfully. Only a few beans burst – much fewer than black beans. I think they turned out better because red beans are a bit more durable and we were sure to not let them soak too long because we really didn't want them to overcook in the canner. They turned out so well, in fact, that – using our vast stores of logic – we immediately opened three jars so    we could make burritos to freeze for lunches.
Even more noticeable on a plate

The method that worked:
*Throw all the beans in a large pot and cover in a couple inches of water.
*Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.
*Let the beans soak for one hour.
*Put in jars and cover with the soaking water (or other hot/boiling water), leaving 1/2” headroom.
*Wipe the rims, get rid of air bubbles, etc. and put the lids/rings on.
*Process in a pressure cooker at 11-15 lbs of pressure for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts).     The time for this step doesn't start until the pressure reaches 11 pounds.
*Wait impatiently for the pressure cooker to cool so you can take the jars out.
*Put the jars on the counter to finish cooling
*Listen to the satisfying sound of lids popping as they seal :)

This is almost as dramatic as the face she makes
Unfortunately, Zoey hates red beans. This surprised us, because a) she'll eat about anything and b) she loves black beans. Give her a red bean, however, and she tastes it, screws up her face, and flings the offending bean across the room. She's subtle like that. 

We've got a bag of garbanzos we also want to can, which we'll probably do next week. I'll probably put those in half-pint jars, though, since I don't use them nearly as often or in as large of quantities as I do red or black beans (although lately, I've been stumbling across lots of recipes for dried chickpeas and chickpea/kale salad and hummus, so maybe a few larger jars might not be a bad idea...)