Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Muffins: Orange-Peanut Butter & Carrot-Raisin

This month, I'm in charge of bringing breakfast for my lab-mates on Friday mornings. I like to break from the usual bagels or ho-hum store-bought coffee cakes, so last week I took a different route - homemade muffins. This is by no means groundbreaking, but it is rare that anyone makes anything with their own two hands for our TGIF meal. So just to make it extra special, I decided to make two muffins. One sumptuous, indulgent and surprising; one healthy, fresh and wholesome.

Orange-PB Muffins

Orange-Peanut Butter Muffins
Makes 12 servings

1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 large egg
1 cup fresh orange juice
1.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a standard-sized, 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat together the oil, honey, peanut butter, orange marmalade, egg, and orange juice.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Gently beat in flour mixture into PB-orange mixture just until incorporated.
Divide batter among greased muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in muffin pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely.

These muffins turned out quite deliciously. The oil and peanut butter give the muffin a smooth, moist texture. The peanut butter and orange are in harmony on your tongue, neither pounding you over the head with their individual flavor, but instead both blending into the background. These could also make a great cupcake with any number of frostings (off the top of my head I could think of vanilla, peanut butter, orange, honey, cinnamon, or chocolate, but the possibilities are endless).

Carrot-Raisin Muffins

Carrot-Raisin Muffins
Makes 12 servings

1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a standard-sized, 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.

Using a standing mixer, beat applesauce, oil and eggs. Add shredded carrot and raisins and beat mixture until well combined. Stir in flour mixture just until incorporated. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups (about 2/3 full). Bake about 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely.

This may sound weird, but of these two muffins, the carrot-raisin were my favorite. Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge peanut butter fan. But when I think muffin, these beauties are what I imagine. The tops are rough and rugged, emphasizing the extra fiber from the whole wheat flour within. Instead of more oil, unsweetened applesauce makes the muffins moist. The carrot and raisin provide their own sweetness and nutrients to the mix. You could easily add some nuts or sunflower seeds to these. If you're so inclined, the addition of some rolled oats could make these into granola muffins. And for all of their nutritional good, they also play nice with your taste buds, imparting their fresh flavors.

Cupcake Courier

As an aside, I want to mention my newest kitchen acquisition - the cupcake courier. I've seen various people carrying these and they really are a good idea. I bought mine from Amazon. Not only can it carry three dozen muffins or cupcakes in three stacked layers, but as you can see from the picture, it even separates the layers with enough room to decorate the cupcakes. In the past I've used the disposable foil bake-ware from the grocery store, but even then you often can't get all of your cupcakes in one tin. It does take up some extra storage space in my house, but it's well worth it.

Both of these muffins are delicious in their own particular ways. When it comes down to it, even without getting into food preferences, these two muffins offered my co-workers their own ways for starting their Friday. If you need that boost of sugar and feeling of luxury on your lengua to trick yourself into finishing the week, then there's a muffin for that. If you like to start your morning feeling healthy and empowered, there's a muffin for that. Now I just need to figure out how to make a muffin that can wash the dishes.

Tilapia with Zucchini Pappardelle

It's definitely squash season. Know how I can tell? My biweekly community supported agriculture deliveries are overrun with zucchini of various shapes and sizes as well as those crooked-necked summer squash. Last year, I had so much zucchini that at one point I had to make a triple recipe of zucchini bread just to make a dent. I'm definitely handling the squash load better this year, thanks in no small part to new and innovative ways to use these veggies. The latest creation is based on a Gourmet Magazine recipe that uses zucchini in place of pasta.

Tilapia with Zucchini Pappardelle
Makes 4 servings

1 pound zucchini, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tilapia fillets (or 2 halved fillets)
1 tbsp dried basil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp water
1 cup basil, torn
4 lemon wedges, for garnish

Using a mandolin, thinly slice zucchini lengthwise to about 1/8" thickness. Slice these ribbons in half lengthwise to form long "noodles." Set aside.

Pat fish dry, then season with salt, pepper and dried basil. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Saute tilapia until browned and just cooked through, about 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. Remove tilapia from pan and set aside, loosely covering with foil to keep warm.

Add garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until pale brown, about 1 minute. Add water and scrape up any brown bits left on the pan. Add zucchini to the pan and cook briefly, just until crisp-tender. Be sure to keep tossing the zucchini while it's in the pan, kind of like in stir-fry, so it does not overcook. Divide zucchini among four plates in little mounds. Season the zucchini with a little salt. Place one fillet over each mound of "pasta," then scatter the torn basil on top.

Tilapia with Zucchini Pappardelle

I'm always a skeptic when someone wants to get rid of my pasta. Whether they are trying to get me to eat my vegetables or are even just using whole wheat pasta, I'm usually not as satisfied with the dish. But this twist on zucchini is surprisingly satiating. It still had some crunch to it (dare I say al dente?) and it tasted fresh and light. The fish did very nicely with the dried basil on it and the addition of fresh basil all around the plate helped bring out the lighter side. I like to combine both dried and fresh herbs in some dishes since dried herbs can withstand some heat while fresh herbs are more fussy and best without a lot of manipulation. Not only was this meal low-carb (but who's counting?) and gluten-free, it was highly satisfying and fast.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food Truck Fiesta & Daisy Cakes

As a follow-up to my previous post on Indian Food on Wheels I looked into the origins of food trucks. Meals on wheels as we know them are the current incarnation of mobile foods. For instance, in the 1800s chuckwagons were part of wagon trains to feed cowboys and other workers out on the prairie. Chuckwagons may also have originated from the mobile kitchens in the battlefield. Later, in the twentieth century during the manufacturing boom, workers would line up at food trucks for sandwiches and burgers before going back on the line. Now in the next millennium, these food trucks are a new means of bringing food to the foodies.

Durham does very well in this new food fad. We have several trucks that move to different locations to serve up various vittles. And a couple of weeks ago, many of these trucks met up in one spot to circle the food wagons and unleash their culinary bounty en masse.

Food Truck Fiesta

Among the vendors present were Daisy Cakes with their cupcakes and other sweets, Only Burger, Indian Food on Wheels, Bulkogi Korean food, a crepe truck, a comfort food truck, and a smoothie/coffee truck.

Food Truck Fiesta

As you can see, the lines for this extravaganza were quite long. I waited in one line for about 20 minutes to get a cupcake, after which I gave up and went home. The trucks ran out of food in two hours, meaning this event was a monumental success for the vendors. But for the customers, it was not that great of an experience. The mercury was pushing 90 degrees F that day with very long lines.

Red Velvet Cupcake

The only fruit of my labor was a single red velvet cupcake from Daisy Cakes. The cake was moist with a just-sweet-enough cream cheese frosting on top. I'm disappointed that I don't have more to add about this food fest, but that may have to wait until the next food truck roundup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Indian Food on Wheels

Who says good food only comes out of stationary kitchens? Food trucks have seen a great rise in popularity the past couple of years, and I'm finally getting around to having my first meal from one of these mobile eateries.

Indian Food on Wheels

Right next to Sam's Quick Shop on Erwin Rd. in Durham is a giant red school bus. At night in moonlights as a source of Mexican food (perhaps the subject of a future post), but by day this Magic School Bus showcases Indian cuisine.


In addition to some basic combo platters, there's also a changing daily special. On the day I went, it was aloo tikki chat, a crispy rice and potato dish. Unfortunately, the special was not quite ready when we rolled up, so I settled for the chicken combo.

Chicken Combo

For $6, I received a styrofoam box bursting with food and delicious sauces. Atop yummy rice were potatoes, peas and succulent chicken in a delightful light brown sauce. I'm not quite sure what specific sauce it was, but it had a nutty sweetness and a medium heat that made lunch a very enjoyable experience. It is still a little odd to get your food out of a vehicle without it being a pizza delivery, but it seems like the bar has been set pretty high with this new foodie avenue.

Corn Chowder

Summer corn is coming into season and while this is not the most creative use of these sweet ears, I decided I needed some corn chowder. With the help of an onion and some small potatoes from my community supported agriculture delivery from this week, I made a deliciously satisfying soup.

Corn Chowder
Makes 6 servings
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, sliced
2 tbsp flour
1.5 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
6 small potatoes, diced
1.5 cup corn, freshly shaved
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and celery in the butter until tender, about 6-10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Stir in milk, broth and water until blended and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add potatoes, corn, salt, and pepper. Partially cover the pan and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir in paprika and serve.

Corn Chowder

This recipe did not seem like anything special, but it really surprised me. The seasonings are very simple, but this hearty soup contained a world of flavors. Naturally sweet tones from the onion and even the potato are the heart of the dish. The milk and broth picked up a lot of flavor from the roux and the sauteed veggies, including some delightful caramelized bits. The slight sweetness of the paprika rounded out everything and made the soup turn a little darker in color.

Corn Chowder

I realize that we are entering the peak of summer and a think, milk-based soup is not topping everyone's list. Hot soup + hot weather does not immediately make one think of a good time. But if you need a break from all the seasonal lettuce salads out there, then this soup is an awesome option.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kale-Kohlrabi Salad


What is this weird alien plant? Is it the offspring of an octopus and collard greens? Or is it a Pokemon? Turns out this odd vegetable is kohlrabi.

Peeled Kohlrabi

After a bit of a trim, it looks more manageable. I found these little guys at the local farmer's market. After seeing them a few times over the past few years, I decided to give them a try. Luckily, among my myriad of recipes, I had exactly one that called for kohlrabi. It was an unassuming side dish recipe from Gourmet magazine that paired kohlrabi with rough and rugged kale for some interesting vegetable vittles.

First, the kohlrabi is very thinly sliced on a mandolin. Then a marinade is prepared using the zest and juice of two limes, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. The kohlrabi is tossed in this marinade.

Sauteing Kale

On to the kale: two pounds of kale are chopped and wilted in batches with some olive oil and chopped garlic. The kale is then left to cool with a sprinkling of salt. The kohlrabi and kale are combined with a healthy dose of roasted pistachios for some extra crunch.

Kale-Kohlrabi Salad

This was the first time I've ever prepared and eaten both kale and kohlrabi, so I really had no idea what to expect from this side dish. The kale was a very sturdy green next to the softer rounds of kohlrabi. Both just tasted very fresh, especially with the citrus flavors from the marinade. The salty crunch from the pistachios added extra interest as well. All in all, this dish turned out surprisingly well and it made me feel healthy and satisfied.