Nov 30, 2010

Zucchini Cashew Bread

Some unexpected teaching work fell into my lap week before last. That kept me from baking or posting for a bit. But I'm back. This morning before breakfast I was hastily snapping photos of zucchini bread.

Also before breakfast this morning I checked C & C Cakery's blog hoping to see results of The Movemeber Manly Cupcake Challenge. The results are up, and my Beer & Pretzels Cupcakes won! 

If you haven't already seen the lineup of excellent cupcakes that were submitted for this challenge, you can ogle them here. I was particularly fond of this one, which features a caramel-scotch frosting; this delicious-sounding, perfectly decorated vegan one; and this one with a cookie barbeque grill that actually lights on fire. Thanks to the folks at C&C for hosting such a fun challenge!

Now about that zucchini bread:

My husband and I try to have breakfast together every morning. It gives us a chance to talk for a few minutes as we start the day. It's one less meal that we eat alone at our desks while working. And it usually convinces our finicky dog to eat her breakfast, too.

This is Penelope. She only eats when we eat. If we don't sit down to breakfast together, she doesn't eat her breakfast. (This picture was taken when I was getting ready to move back to Houston last year. She was helping, of course.)

Terry leaves at 6:30 every morning (and sometimes I leave  that early as well), so breakfast needs to be pretty straightforward. Muffins and quick breads are good options. They're delicious for breakfast. They're handy for snacks. They're perfect thank-you gifts for the neighbor with whom Terry sometimes carpools.

Keep reading for details on our current favorite quick bread, which was very tasty this morning with some bacon left over from making chipotle sweet potato corn chowder last night.

Nov 15, 2010

Beer and Pretzels Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across C&C Cakery's Movember Manly Cupcake Challenge, and I knew immediately that I wanted to enter. After a brainstorming session with the husband, some recipe writing and testing, and a full day of baking, I'm ready to share the recipe for Beer and Pretzels Cupcakes.

These cupcakes feature a rich, spicy brown ale cake with a brown ale custard filling. They're topped with caramel buttercream and homemade soft pretzels.

Why are these cupcakes so manly? Three reasons:
  • They bring that classic pair of manly comestibles--beer and pretzels--together in a delicious baked good.
  • They're bigger and badder than your usual cupcake recipe. When I think about how the men in my life cook, I visualize the vast quantities of food they prepare. They like to cook for crowds. I picture my father-in-law grilling steaks for the whole family on a Friday night, and I picture the five-gallon pot of chili my husband cooks every fall when he invites 40 to 60 of his closest friends over. In that quintessentially manly more-is-more spirit, this recipe yields 24 ultra-rich cupcakes and 32 soft pretzels.
  • They feature some of my favorite man's favorite flavors. My husband loves caramel, loves soft pretzels, and loves a good micro-brew. This cupcake has all of that and more.

menu monday

My husband and I spent hours yesterday baking together. By tomorrow I should be ready to share photos and a recipe from our baking marathon.

For now, here's a look at what we're eating this week:

crock pot Tex-Mex chicken (recipe) served with tortillas and taco toppings

balsamic tuna steak, green pea salad with roasted peppers

chicken and cheese casserole

leftover casserole

bean burritos and green rice (recipe)

rehearsal dinner for a friend's wedding

deviled chicken (recipe), cabbage salad, fresh bread

chicken and dumplings

We're bringing out the family recipes this week. The casserole we're making Tuesday is a favorite in my husband's family. The chicken and dumplings is a variation on my grandmother's recipe. I'll try to get at least one of those into a post in the next few days.

Happy cooking and eating this week!

Nov 8, 2010

menu monday and thoughts on delicious yet healthful eating

When my husband and I first started dating (almost 10 years ago), I had been a vegetarian for about three years. While I was a sophomore in college, I read somewhere that all the grain we feed to beef cattle in the U. S. could, if fed to hungry people instead, practically eliminate hunger worldwide. So I stopped eating meat.

However, I was 22 years old, a novice cook, and not a very smart vegetarian. I ate a lot of cheese sandwiches. Maybe that's why I didn't object or decline to eat when my then-boyfriend began cooking me non-vegetarian dinners. He served up chicken alfredo, lasagna, beef chili, pork chops. In the kitchen with him, I began to love cooking.

Flash forward ten years.

Healthy eating is a hot topic in our household. We've been casting about for years looking for simple, healthful rules to guide our dietary choices. I've toyed with vegetarianism from time to time; the husband has  experimented with low carb eating. We've also joined a lot of other people in talking about organic produce, free range chicken, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, the local food movement, and so on. Our trips to the supermarket got a lot more confusing as  we began to think critically about all these labels.

We can no longer look inside an egg carton just to see if it has any cracked eggs. No, we look and see the crowded chicken house where the hen is likely kept, the antibiotics or hormones the hen might have been given, and the petroleum used to transport those eggs to our local supermarket.

Scene: Between the eggs and orange juice in our local supermarket.

Him:  Are those the eggs from Texas chickens?

Me: Um, no. Not these. Says here they're from somewhere in Oklahoma. How about those organic ones in the cardboard carton?

Him: Not local. Not cage free. It says, "from vegetarian, grain-fed chickens" though.

Me: Oh. Why are these eggs $6 a dozen?!

Him: I guess because they have omega-3 acids added?

Me: Well, we know we don't want eggs with anything added. Right?

{long pause}

Him: What does a chicken eat if it's not vegetarian and grain-fed?

{long pause}

Me: This is confusing. Let's just get those store-brand eggs that are on sale, and we'll think about this later.

We're getting past the utter confusion we felt at first, but we're still working to understand labels and make better choices. One of the ways we tackle the task of making better eating choices is to draw up a weekly menu and then follow it faithfully.

We're also working out specific goals. One of these is to eat less meat. Another is to make everything we possibly can from scratch in our own kitchen rather than buying processed foods.

Careful menu planning--and all the cooking practice that goes along with it--has produced the following benefits for us:
  • We throw away less food because we plan out how many servings we're making, when we're going to eat leftovers, and how to work extra ingredients into upcoming meals.
  • We never look at each other at the end of the day and wonder what's for dinner. This eliminates both stressful moments and impulsive eating choices.
  • We have plenty of home-cooked meals stashed in our freezer ready to be thawed out and eaten on those busy days when no one has time to cook dinner from scratch.
  • We eat out very rarely because we've learned to cook better (tastier) food than we can get at most restaurants.

Here's a look at what we're eating this week :

chipotle sweet potato corn chowder (recipe) and a slice of homemade French bread

Monday Dinner
pasta primavera

Tuesday Dinner
roasted pear and blue cheese salads (recipe)

Wednesday Dinner
leftover pasta primavera

Thursday Dinner
scrambled eggs, popovers

Friday (date night) 
steak, baked sweet potato, salad

Saturday Dinner
chicken paprika (recipe), green rice (recipe)

Sunday Dinner
baked potato soup

Note: I provided links to several recipes. We always end up tweaking and changing the source recipe, but these are some of our starting points.

We're doing pretty well with our goal to eat less meat.We're making some progress in our quest to avoid processed foods including making all of our own breads.

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Butter Dip

I love happy accidents that result in tasty dishes: tossing in the wrong spice only to discover it tastes better than what the recipe called for; making a last-minute substitution because you're out of an ingredient and finding that it tastes wonderful; completely misunderstanding your mother-in-law's tried-and-true recipe but creating something new and delicious in the process.

Last week my husband and I were pressed for time one evening, and we were hurriedly working together to pack lunches for the next day. We needed to whip up a new batch of dip to go with fresh veggies. I had a printed recipe, which I handed to him after rattling off the short list of ingredients that we needed to pull out of the fridge. He was measuring out some ingredients; I was chopping some other ingredients. He was working from the page I handed him while I was working from memory. We were both tossing ingredients into a single mixing bowl.

Then we found ourselves staring into the mixing bowl, him holding a bottle of soy sauce and me holding the canister of brown sugar.

Me: This doesn't look right.

Him: But we're following the recipe you gave m--oh.

Me: Oh?

Him: That's not the dip recipe.

Me: Oh.

Fortunately for our veggies, the recipe we intended to follow was printed on the same sheet of a paper with a chicken satay marinade. We had commingled the dip ingredients with the marinade ingredients. We made just a few adjustments to finish it off. The result is a wonderful, creamy, spicy dip that would be good on crackers as well as vegetables.

Click here for printable recipe.

  • 1 cup smooth, no-sugar-added peanut butter (we use an all natural one that contains nothing but dry roasted peanuts)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

Mix all ingredients together. Chill. Serve as a dip for fresh veggies.

Nov 4, 2010

a brand new, fresh-out-of-the-oven baking blog

I've been baking. A lot.

And loving it.

I've been cooking more, too, with a focus on unprocessed ingredients and from-scratch recipes.

Over the past year,I've become a better cook and a better baker. I'm no longer a blind follower of recipes. I can tweak, adapt, and improvise--and still get dinner on the table at 6:30. I've even begun dreaming up and testing my own recipes.This new-found confidence makes me love cooking and baking even more than I already did.

Baking has increasingly become a distraction from other things I'm supposed to be working on. Things like finishing graduate school.

Lately I find myself thinking about Ana Pascal in the film Stranger than Fiction  (2006). There's a scene where she talks about being in law school and how she would always bake some treat to take to meetings of her study group. She says she became more and more interested in the lemon bars, oatmeal cookies, and chocolate tortes and less and less interested in law.

I relate to that story. I'd rather be baking than finishing this degree. I'm happiest when I'm in the kitchen mixing, pouring, kneading, and keeping an eye on whatever is in the oven. In that happily-baking state of mind, I'm beginning this new venture.

For a couple weeks now I've been brainstorming and searching the web looking for the perfect moniker for my online presence. I found a lot of baking and cooking blogs out there in cyperspace, and I also found that almost every clever name I could think of was already being used (or, more often, was holding a spot at a lonely, abandoned blog somewhere).

I was trying so hard to be hip and clever. I began to fret that I would never find an appropriate name. Then I happened to read a blog post that discussed how essential it is to just be yourself in the blogosphere. Finally, the pieces clicked together.

I'm a writing teacher as well as a baking enthusiast. I like words, and I have many opportunities to see words used, misused, hopelessly confused, and generally made amusing.

The college freshmen I teach often mislabel a common punctuation error "a coma splice." I find this quite funny despite the spelling error.

When we were planning our dessert wedding reception, my husband, a heckuva sharp guy but not the world's best speller, sent me a text message in which he wondered if we should be concerned about putting any of our guests into "a sugar comma." I thought that was pretty cute.

I like words, and I figure I can work with this amusing mashup of similar words. Perhaps, when I combine my interests in baking and in the English language, I'll even find some additional opportunities for wordplay.

What do I expect to do with this blog? Right now I'm baking two or three times each week, and I cook every day. That's a lot of potential material. My goal is to post a few times a week including at least one baking project (with a recipe) and at least one post about cooking from scratch with unprocessed foods (again, with a recipe). I also have some ideas about how to format recipes to maximize their usefulness, and I'll be practicing those as I go along.

So welcome to my shiny new food blog. I hope you find both entertaining commentary and worthwhile recipes as we go along.

Here's hoping I'll keep it updated and not let Sugar Comma become yet another of those lonely, abandoned food blog spaces.