March 28, 2012

Cream Cheese-Pumpkin Muffins, Apple-Pumpkin Muffins [Guest Post]

Sometime after we shared a college apartment, my friend Jazzy transformed from a strictly cereal-and-crackers-and-icing-eating gal to quite the innovative from-scratch baker and cook. As in, she might even bake more frequently than me now.  What a joy it has been to see her bestow this new gift on people in her life, often coupled with her writing gift that has so blossomed the longer I have known her. Jazzy's facebook page has turned into a mini food blog of sorts, which inspired me to ask her to guest post right here. One thing hasn't changed about her, though; the only things I remember her baking in our apartment were pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies.  Other friends who cook, get ready I am coming after you next.

Ok, let me freak out a little bit… AHHHH! I’m on Madoline “Chef/Baker/Baller Extraordinaire’s” blog! This is better than Rachael Ray, Emeril, (umm) George Foreman…!

But seriously— what an honor. Other than the (hopefully obvious) affiliation with Madoline as her kitchen disciple, I’ve had the privilege of being a classmate, roomie and friend to a gal that’s sweeter than pumpkin pie… which reminds me! My next point. Pumpkin.

Now, In advance, I apologize for the following:

a.  If you are allergic to pumpkin and want nothing to do with it.
b. If you are all “pumpkined” out (I know… I know. Pumpkin is so fall. And it’s spring already. But you’ll just have to play along)
c. If you clicked on Madoline’s blog today, thinking, “Gee. I’ve got 99 recipes in my kitchen. They all have pumpkin in them. I’d like to have 100 recipes. And I’d like one of them to not be pumpkin.” So, so sorry.
But let’s be honest, eh? If you enjoy baking, you’ve baked a loaf of pumpkin bread or two. Oh, and too— it seems that every time, I whip up my pumpkin batter, I’ve got plenty for two or three loaves. The Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread recipe serves as my trusty starting block, in addition to extra cinnamon and ginger dashes, a cap-full of vanilla, half white/half whole wheat flour and pecans.

But the other day, I thought to myself, “But what if I only want one? What to do with the rest of this dreamy-spiced mix other than baking the regular, rectangular, and mundane loaf I always make?” So, that’s when I got a lil’ creative… picture it…
My eyes darted left and right. It just so happened I had a muffin pan (check). And it just so happened I had 2 red apples and a supply of bagel-less cream cheese (check). I had time, mixture and magic (check, check, check)— and let me say this, and let me say it loud so you can hear my voice come off the screen and preach to you, “Your kitchen is your playground, dearest. If you are married to following a recipe (foreign or familiar) down to the very letter, afraid to branch out and sprinkle, dabble, mix and create something different all on your own, STOP THAT! And do you ‘creative thang’!” My desire was shake up texture, shape and size, enhance taste while maintaining that desired blueprint of pumpkin success that my dad, aunts and uncles so often enjoy. So with the batter that had potential to be loaf #2, here’s what I did...
I peeled a medium-sized red apple, sliced it in half, sat down, ate half of it, and minced the other half. Then I set it aside.

Then I took 4 ounces of cream cheese, whipped it (real good), incorporated half of an egg yolk, a tsp. vanilla, 4 Tbsp. brown sugar and whipped it again (real good). And set it aside.

The muffin pan, I grab. With nonstick cooking spray, I hit all 12 cups. I fill 7 of them only halfway with batter, and in those 7, I drop a dollop of cream cheese mixture. Taking a toothpick, I begin to swirl the orange and cream to my liking (the appearance of the yin and yang). And though there was extra cream cheese mixture left over, I’m satisfied with the number of that muffin variation while moving onto the chopped apple…

The minced apple half, I drop in the rest of the mixture. I stir. The rest of the muffin cups I fill ½ to ¾’s of the way. I want this to be aesthetically more distinguished, so I garnish each apple pumpkin muffin with a pecan (ooh la la). And voila. Oven on 350 degrees, 20 minutes later, the oven births 12-15 beautiful bouncy creations. I’m a proud baker.


March 22, 2012

Scraps of table fellowship

Exhibit A: My compost pile from the weekend.  
The asparagus stems from an impromptu salmon dinner with two lovely ladies. The "skin" of garlic used to make pesto and the lemon from a roasted chicken that went in a pasta salad shared in the botanical gardens with a dear friend who is moving away for a new season of life. Fruit rinds and stems from my Sunday morning porch breakfast and prayer time.
With spring sprung, there are more hours in my days, more light in my life, more playing in the sunshine, more sharing life in community around me. Life is in full bloom. Its fullness has me constantly reflecting on the good gifts that come from the father of heavenly lights. Especially table fellowship.

It's over the table that strangers become friends, friends become family, and family become friends: Breakfast with a roommate on a busy morning.  Dinners with friends where you don't get up to clear your plates until hours later. Mid-workday delight life-catchup lunch sessions. Communion around the table and sharing Jesus in "backyard church" following an amazingly fresh salad buffet. Breakfast or dinner dates laced with intentional conversation about how God is at work in our lives. Meeting new people over dessert porch sitting. Relishing life lived together as we entertain our taste buds and fill our stomachs.

As I have been reading through Lenten devotions on Matthew written by people from my church, I have been struck by how Jesus valued our fellowship over a meal and ultimately the meal of bread and wine, body and blood. It's funny how truths from childhood songs seep back in my life as an adult with new meaning: He sets me at his banqueting table, His banner over me is love.

Cheers to life in this season of spring and sunshine, of table fellowship, and of learning to root all these things in that banqueting table.

March 13, 2012

Chocolate Chip Double-Doozie Cookies

Presenting this week's iteration of the [homemade] chocolate chip cookie: the kind filled with icing a la the Great American Cookie Company "double doozie."
Like last year, the sea of St. Patty's Day green in the bakery at the grocery store sang the siren song of festive baking. And what temptresses of sinful sugary delight it inspired!

When you combine the best of the simple-from-scratch sweets, Tollhouse cookies and buttercream icing, how can you create a treat that lasts longer than 24 hours? It's quite impossible if you share at all.

Update: I took these to a family who had a recently had a baby and got a report that they were eaten for breakfast, minutes after they got dropped off with dinner for that night. This is also the dessert that one of my interns has most often referred back to as being "really good." 

March 5, 2012

Sausage, Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole (The Real Way)

While there's still a tiny bit of winter left, let's talk about comfort food: creamy casserole yumyum.

My grandmother and mom rocked many a dinner party with company-special Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole. But when I made their recipe with creamed soup a few years ago, my increasing cook-from-scratch snobbery overtook me and made me shelve it with other childhood favorites that had lost their luster like Chicken Sour Cream. To the majority of the world who loves boiled chicken mixed with sour cream and cream of chicken soup, and who actually has to put dinner for more than one person on the table in limited time, not to mention making it kid-friendly, power to you, and my apologizes for any snobbish hating in this post.
All that is to say that I tried my hand at the creamy, mushroomy, sausage and chicken and wild rice-filled casserole, no canned goods allowed. It comforted with its creamy, hearty goodness without that so-rich intensity that leaves you feeling a little like you drank a cup of cream and butter, sprinkled with buttery crackers.

The secrets to a from-scratch creamy casserole:
1. Start with lots of veggies.
2. Add 'shrooms, meat and wine.
3. Add flour and low-fat milk to make a cream sauce, and then some cheese and sour cream.
4. Stand over the stove for forever while it all cooks down, before you pour it on top of rice to bake.
5. Add salt. Because there ain't none in there unless you add it.
Disclaimer: This project is only worth undertaking if:
1. You have several hours on a weekend where you just feel like cooking, and by cooking, I mean chopping lots of veggies and meat, cooking meat, cooking veggies, cooking sauce, cooking rice, assembling it all and cleaning many dishes (phew).

2. You have lots of people to feed. Out of this batch, I got (1) meal to encourage friends healing from/caretaking after surgery, (1) homemade dinner gift for my parents, and (2) meals for yours truly.

3. You value (a) the art of casserole comfort and (b) making things from scratch.

Oh, I forgot my favorite part: the (optional) almond topper. That and parsley make a brown casserole more purdy.