26 September 2008

Raw Apple Muffins

Today I needed to bake something. Waiting for a baby to come -- even when feeling awful -- can get a little mundane. And yesterday I noticed that we'd eaten the peaches and berries we'd bought at the market last weekend, but we hadn't eaten all of the apples. So naturally, while laying awake in best last night, I figured I'd make Raw Apple Muffins with them.

The muffin recipe was one that Christiane introduced me to, but it wasn't until I ran across the recipe in Marion Cunningham's "Breakfast Book" that I copied the recipe for myself. It's a simple recipe that seems fairly foolproof if you follow Marion's advice. The best part of this recipe is that I've got the ingredients on hand pretty much any time except the peak of summer when apples are hard to come by (at least good ones).

The result is a dense, fruit-filled muffin that has some depth to it that can be hard to come by in a world where muffins are often thought of as a super-sweet, cakey pastry made fake-tasting berries. (If this describes what you call a muffin, you are under strict orders to go to a REAL bakery -- not in a grocery store, you must be able to see people making baked goods and the staff should be able to describe tastes, textures and ingredients -- ASAP.)

Take the extra step and follow the directions to use three separate bowls. And if you've got disposable gloves in your kitchen, put a pair on and do use your hands to mix. Even if you don't have gloves, your hands still are the best option to combine the ingredients because it is a thick, chunky batter.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy, and don't dare cut the recipe down -- these muffins freeze really well, so any extras need not go to waste!

Raw Apple Muffins
from Marion Cunnigham's "Breakfast Book"

4 cups diced apple (peeled or unpeeled)
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup oil (corn oil is very good)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup broken walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease 16 muffin tins.
Put 3 mixing bowls on the counter. Mix the apples and sugar in one bowl and set aside. Put the eggs, oil and vanilla in a second bowl and stir to blend well. In the third bowl, put the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and stir the mixture with a fork until blended.
Stir the egg mixture in to the apples and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the apple mixture and mis well. (I use my hands because this is a stiff batter.) Sprinkle the raisans and walnuts over the batter and mix until they are evenly distributed. Spoon into the muffin tins.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until a straw comes out clean when inserted into the center of a muffin. Serve warm.

13 September 2008

Comfort Foods

Being two and half weeks from my due date, I now know how women get the courage to endure labor, perhaps even with gusto. I am so miserable most of the time that the thought of bringing this chapter to a close sounds delightful, even if it could involve hours of sporadic pain, hospital machines and perhaps even stitches (yikes!).

Of course I'm ecstatic to meet our little guy and that, too, is great motivation. But the yo-yo of lack of sleep one day and zombie symptoms the next coupled with constant but not-yet-productive contractions are driving me crazy.

So, if I find a couple of minutes of comfort in something as simple as pudding, don't judge.

I can't remember the last time I made pudding (given the above comments, of course I'm speaking of instant pudding). It's been so long I forgot how easy and fast it is. Just mix the powder with milk and wait five minutes.

Lime green pistachio pudding never tasted so good. Sweet, cool and creamy.

The pudding binge was a bit random for me, but perhaps it fits in well with my overall pattern of shopping, cooking and eating lately. My grocery bills have crept up in the past few weeks as I've thrown things in the cart that I haven't dared to buy in years -- Keebler cookies (Deluxe Grahams and Fudge Stripes), powdered lemonade, Saltine crackers and, yes, Jell-O instant pudding.

I've had several people ask me whether I've had strange pregnancy cravings. I wouldn't say that I've had cravings. I had the very common food aversions in the first few months, but I have never had a hankering for pickles and ice cream. I'm pretty sure this is a myth, much like pregnancy lasting nine months (it's actually nine and half, and if you think those last two weeks don't matter, I dare you to call me right now).

The foods I'm craving now aren't strange or gross. They are very much in line with things I've craved when I've been very sick. They're my comfort foods. By that I mean they're foods I found in my mom's kitchen when I was a kid. And these are just the packaged foods. I've also indulged in a dish my dad used to make us for breakfast, a poached egg on top of toast with syrup, and last week I made a mean tuna casserole straight from my mom's recipe one night and a heaping pile of mashed potatoes another night.

There is a deep connection between the foods of our childhood and those we crave when we're in need of something later life -- sick, sad or celebrating. That explains why ethnic foods are such a huge part of immigrant culture. And why, in nearly every culture, holiday traditions are closely tied to foods.

So make sure you've got something in your pantry that can pass as a comfort food in a fix. You never know when you need a little something to lift your spirits. If you're pregnant, I'd advise upping the rations -- you're gonna need it. In the meantime, I'll manage through the next few weeks with pudding what ever other quick, random dishes I can gather the courage to throw together. I'll keep in mind, however, that a few weeks after Lil P is born, my mom will come for a visit. I'm hoping she brings a hankering to comfort us with some great foods. Somehow, I think she'll be more than happy to!

04 September 2008

Casserole Kick

I'm on a casserole kick lately. Blame it on the final weeks of pregnancy or a recent late-summer dose of cool weather and rain. Whatever the case, I've made two dishes recently that while aren't new, they were new to me. Both were inspired by items I had in my pantry and veggie basket.

The first is a dish I'll call Just Veg Lasagna. It started with slices of zucchini, eggplant and carrots. The large chunks of vegetable sliced about 1/4 inch think got a toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and then headed for a trip under the broiler until lightly browned and cooked thoroughly. A red sauce combined sauteed onions, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and their juice over a medium heat to reduce. Once about half the liquid was reduced, I popped that mixture into the food processor with a handful of pitted black olives and bread crumbs. Then I simply built my casserole, lasagna style, alternating layers of the veggies, sauce and cheese. A quick trip in the oven to melt the cheese (finished under the broiler for browning), finished the dish.

The second dish was a version of the old Tamale Pie. I cooked polenta with some salsa verde (the kind for enchiladas, not chips), frozen corn and a good dose of salt. Once cooked, I added in some shredded cheddar. I spread the polenta in the bottom of a casserole in an even layer. Then I combined some leftover cooked ground pork, a can of rinse and drained beans, sauteed onions, chili powder and salt. That mixture was spread on evenly over the polenta layer and then topped with cheddar. The dish was warmed in the oven and also finished under the broiler to brown cheese.

As Seth said, the dishes weren't quite gourmet, but he did ask for seconds.