April 27, 2011

Blueberry-Banana Breakfast Muffins

The advent of berry season, glorious berry season, inspired this twist on my go-to Banana Breakfast Muffins. I mixed some berries into the hearty batter and topped each muffin with crunchy granola. They're just sweet enough to satisfy and go down perfectly with some strawberry or raspberry Kefir (basically drinkable yogurt).

There seem to always brown bananas at my house begging to be made into a grab-and-go, healthy breakfast. Solution: stock the freezer with fruity muffins with plenty of wheat flour and ground flax seed to stick with you 'til lunchtime.

More Baked Blueberry Goodness:
Banana-Blueberry Bread
Berry-and-Spice Whole Wheat Muffins
Blueberry Cheesecake Muffins

April 24, 2011

New Design, Same Maple Macaroni

It was time for an updated look. Whatcha think?

April 23, 2011

Friday Brownie Bites, Sunday Blondie Bites

Those who know me well know I think far too much. So when my church small group decided to make cookies to help people stay awake for six hours of Bible teaching Friday night at a Secret Church simulcast, my mind went crazy thinking of ways to let Easter symbolism, along with butter and sugar, be the inspiration of my confections.

I couldn’t quite fit the full symbolic explanation onto the note card that labeled my baked goods at Secret Church, but the ever-gifted expositor David Platt’s teaching on the complexity and mystery of crucifixion and salvation took to all 50,00 of us listening to spiritual depths even my over-thinking mind had never been.

Friday Brownie Bites
I put my mini muffin tins to work by making uber-chocolatey brownie bites (no mint icing this time). They’re dark and heavy, just as was the sorrow of the mocking and brutality Christ humbly took on Friday. But chocolate is also really good, you know, like Good Friday—the beauty of the love God so showed by putting all the sins anyone ever does or thinks on his son and by sacrificing him for crazy humans like me that will never ever, ever even begin to measure up to his goodness and grace.

Sunday Blondie Bites
Likewise, I made light and bright-colored blondies to contrast the beauty and hope of Sunday with the dark despair of Friday.

Over the past few months I’ve been contemplating just what hope and power there is in a God who raises a very dead, very buried man to life again and what hope I can take in knowing he is shaping my life and whatever crazy things are going in the world. It’s that hope that pastel-colored peanut butter eggs stuffed into buttery cookie dough represent.

As I’ve walked with friends through periods of waiting and waiting and waiting for a job (thanks, economy), a move, life direction, healing—just as people were waiting and waiting for the first Easter Sunday—God has so revealed “Sunday” moments with direction in unexpected ways, gifts that point so obviously to their giver. In dark times, I always like to think on: “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

Truthfully, these were a case of desperation leads to innovation. I simply wanted to make “Sunday” cookies with pastel Easter M&Ms, but they were nowhere to be found. Reese’s Pieces eggs were the next best thing on the Easter candy aisle, and even without chocolate, they were quite delectable like the Blondies with Reese I based them off of.

April 20, 2011

Panzanella Salad

Does picking up fresh produce and throwing it on the grill for a meal excite you as much as it does me? The fruits, the veggies, the sunshine, the long days—springtime makes my heart happy. Remembering what fun the grill and I had with chicken breasts (topped with mango salsa!) and zucchini last week, I was overcome with an urge to grill something fresh ASAP.

What came to mind for a new recipe experiment? This grilled tomato-bread salad I had stared at many a times on the Southern Living website. Between the crusted fresh bread and the simple and scrumptious Mediterranean combo of tomatoes, onion, fresh basil, and olives, we decided eating this meal in the sunshine was about 56 times better than any restaurant experience. If only I could make lunch at home and eat in the backyard with special people in sunshine everyday…

April 17, 2011

Pie + Community Development=PieLab

In case you didn’t know, PieLab is a big deal. Iconic Southern food writer John T. Edge published a New York Times Magazine cover story on the center for design, community, and PIES in October. It was written up in Bon App├ętit, Southern Living, and lots of other fancy-schmancy publications. But when you visit its storefront in rural Alabama, it’s just ordinary people baking and serving exceptionally tasty, all-natural pies. By hanging out for a meal, I think we only got a glimpse at what goes on beyond the pie though.
The PieLab concept was started by designers in the Northeast as a movement for “community and conversation, one slice at a time.” In May 2009, they opened shop Greensboro in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt; the region is named for its fertile soil and, thanks to years of slavery and then sharecropping economy, is now one of the most impoverished areas of the country. PieLab, along with HERO housing initiative, are out to empower the community to change that.

Hannah capturing our delicious pie lunch.
On Saturday, we ventured down past the normal Alabamians who spend their April Saturday drinking beer and watching Alabama football scrimmage in Tuscaloosa to PieLab. My team? Hannah, who just started One Bowl One Spoon, is one of those people with whom I easily jump into hours-long conversation about food and publishing, and her friend, Natalie, who is working on a childhood obesity-prevention grant in Birmingham. Needless to say, we had plenty to discuss on our way down.

We were so the crazy tourists walked in looking for the “full PieLab experience” and took pictures of everything, which made us less cool, but oh well. First up? Quiche-like herbed squash pie with a side salad. Amazing.

Normally restaurants kitchens seem extremely fast-paced and stressful. Not PieLab. Everything about it emanates a sense of chill that creates an atmosphere begging you to hang around for hours and discuss the world’s problems over piece after piece of pie.
When the pies start to run low, the employees start chopping apples and mixing graham crackers crust by hand to get more pie in the oven.
After touring Greensboro’s mostly abandoned Main Street and taking in the architecture of some awesome old churches and homes, we returned for dessert pie. We each took a bite of one and then rotated them around the table for the complete tasting experience.

The cheddar-apple pie had a flaky cheddar crust and a just-barely-sweet taste from uber freshly chopped apples. Apple pie doesn’t usually do much for me, but now I want to try my own rendition of this piece of scrumptiousness. The chocolate-pecan proved I should never have been skeptical about switching up a classic pie, even with chocolate. The ginger was a cool cream pie that tasted like Thanksgiving.  Not pictured: the peach cobbler I took home and devoured with ice cream after dinner like a pie-eating pig.

Next food field trip? We’re thinking strawberry picking.

April 15, 2011

Bold and Hearty Chex Mix

Hello, new snack time treat worthy of making four batches in the past couple of months. Chex mix can be a choose-your-own-adventure kind of recipe. I used real butter, which is essential to the addictive flavor in my opinion, instead of trying a less sinful variation with egg whites.

In the original Chex mix, I pick out the white and corn Chex, but since using wheat in my own to make it more fibericiously filling, I've come to like its thicker, heartier texture better. I also add in peanuts for satsfying protein as well as pretzels and Cheez-Its for salty flavor. No super hard bagel chips for me, thank you very much. I finish off the coating with a kick of Creole seasonings and chili powder.
I personally think my combination is the best, but that's only because it fits my preference for a flavorful and filling snack with a bit of nuts and cheese. What is your ultimate snack mix combo?

April 11, 2011

Of Holly, Pizza, and Passion

This is Holly. She quiet if you don’t know her. But get her talking about how she makes pizza, and she’ll smile and speak with humble passion.
Photo by 280 Living
She’s part of a team of two who opened aptly named Holly’s Pizzeria in Birmingham several months ago. She does all the cooking, and her partner waits on the tables. Both beam with reserved pride about owning their own place and serving Holly’s perfected pies. I got to tell their story this month in 280 Living. It was for my new daytime gig writing and editing for suburban community newspapers on 280, in Homewood, and in Mountain Brook. (I also get to write about things like recycling, charity parties in a special person's memory, and PGA tournaments (I really wrote about sports?).)

Truth be told, I kind of judge new suburbs against the greater character of architecture and non-chain restaurants and stores in more urban areas. Isn’t every suburb virtually the same? No, I’ve learned. Amongst the big box stores and neighborhoods with variations on like five floor plans are people with stories, just like the rest of the world and just like more cool urban neighborhoods. And hidden in a generic strip mall are two people bustin’ their butts seven days a week to pursue their passion: serving the most hearty thin crust pizza I’ve ever tasted. What a reminder me the gift of writing for the service of others!

April 8, 2011

Jamie Oliver's [Greek Yogurt] Caesar Dressing

Light Caesar dressing? Yep. Jamie Oliver confirmed that Greek yogurt does in fact make almost anything creamy healthy and just as tasty as the original. I have always been a little fearsome of anchovies, but the salty essential hidden among the canned sardines and tuna at the grocery store wasn't so scary after all.

Simply stir together the yogurt with the fishies and a few other ingredients, and, voila, homemade, natural, good-for-you Caesar. Now, Cardini's does taste slightly more flavorful, but I like how this one is not heavy yet gives your taste buds a creamy, salty satisfaction.
For a Sunday lunch in the sunshine, I tossed my dressing with a variation on Caesar Power Salad: romaine, red bell peppers, sliced almonds, and chopped grilled chicken.

April 5, 2011

Double Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are my friend Haynes' specialty: peanut butter cookie dough stuffed with chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. In our college apartment, she baked a rotation of these and her pumpkin bread, and I filled in the gaps with Tollhouse cookies and chocolate cupakes with buttercream icing. Our other two roommates observed how baking crazed we were, invited friends over to help rid of temptation to eat all of what we baked ourselves, and have since picked up baking in their own way.

My version of Haynes cookies used a chewy peanut butter dough that isn't too powerfully peanut buttery and the Hayzian chocolate and peanut butter chips. Anyone with the slightest taste for peanut butter and chocolate could easily scarf down this whole stack of delish.

I gave away lots of the cookies but, being the selfish baker I am, saved some for my 3 p.m. pick-me-up at work. Bananas leave a weird aftertaste in my mouth, and I gotta have some sugar to wash it down.