Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tim's banana chocolate chip muffins.

Sometimes, it's nice to be home. In the past two months, I've been to Michigan four times, St. Louis for a weekend, Mexico and back again, one wedding, two wedding showers, and a graduation party. I've rushed home from work on Friday nights to pack up the car, say good-bye to the cat, and live out of a duffel bag for the weekend. I've come back to empty fridges and no time for grocery shopping. And trust me, I'm not complaining. This is what I love about summer.

With all the coming and going, staying still becomes almost a treat. You know what else is a treat? Banana chocolate chip muffins.

I made these last Saturday morning -- the first Saturday in a long time that I actually woke up in my own bed and got to putter around the apartment, cooking, cleaning and taking pictures with no real hurry or schedule. I had been staring at this muffin recipe all week, which is something I often do when preparing to make something new. I find the recipe and bookmark it, then revisit it a few times a day to read over the ingredients and the process, to make sure I really want to make this and if I even can, to mentally side aside some time to take it slowly. I think a quiet Saturday morning is the best time to make muffins.

My favorite part of these muffins are the chocolate chips. I love chocolate chips. I think every dessert should be dotted with chocolate chips. And I'll be completely honest with you: As I mixed the chips into the batter, I got pretty excited. Here I am, baking! With chocolate chips! From scratch! What a great way to start a Saturday.

Alas, this story of a Saturday ends in destruction. The muffins turned out beautifully -- moist and banana-ey, with bits of melted chocolate chips throughout. And oh-so-easy. Unfortunately, I only got to eat one. I gave away half and left the rest in a bag on the counter, then spent the rest of my Saturday out and about. I came home to a bag of muffin crumbs on the floor.

It completely slipped my mind that our cat, Tim, hunts bread products. His favorite food is Hawaiian sweet bread. He's attacked and demolished cinnamon rolls and Subway sandwiches. He is known to catch loaves of bread and howl in the middle of the night, waking us up to observe his prey, which he has hoarded in the closet. He got to the muffins. And though he didn't eat them, he made sure no one else could.

That Tim. I forgave him, of course. And it's a good thing I won't be leaving town again for a while, not only because it's nice to be home, but also because I have this beast to keep my eye on. Besides, there's more baking to do. I deserve another banana chocolate chip muffin.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (from Bon App├ętit)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line twelve 1/3-cup muffin cups with foil muffin liners. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Mix mashed bananas, egg, melted butter and milk in medium bowl. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients just until blended (do not overmix). Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake muffins until tops are pale golden and tester inserted into center comes out with some melted chocolate attached but no crumbs, about 32 minutes. Transfer muffins to rack; cool. Store far away from cats.

Makes 12 muffins.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy summer, with chowder.

Right now, as I write this, I'm surrounded by stuff. We had our wedding shower this past Sunday and came home with boxes and bags filled with shiny new things, like pans and salad spinners and vacuums and martini glasses and a Yoda tree topper, and even some old things, like a Kodak folding Brownie camera from 1915. It's overwhelming, looking at all of these boxes and trying to rearrange dishes in the cabinets, replacing the old with the new.

As I drove home from the shower, I was dreading the unpacking process. But once we started up, opening all the packages and watching our new life unfold before our eyes, I realized that this is it. This toaster oven will be ours until it's old and rusty. This vacuum will clean our apartment and next, our house. We'll be using these new spoons as we sit around the dinner table with our kids. And believe it or not, these thoughts of the future make it seem not so overwhelming anymore. It's calming, and it's happy. Everything is coming together.


My fridge is packed, too. Talk about overwhelming -- it's about that time of year when I have too many vegetables than I know what to do with, and I kind of love it. In less than one week, I've accumulated a half pound of okra, a bag full of green beans, a bunch of green onions, beets beets beets, plump tomatoes, cucumbers big and small, five zucchini, two summer squashes, and 13 ears of sweet corn. Needless to say, I've been cooking a lot. Last week there was the corn, zucchini, and black bean saute. Tonight, there were roasted green beans splashed with olive oil and lemon. And there were two batches of corn chowder.


Two very different batches of corn chowder. The second was just last night, which I've posted about before, with bacon and butter and potatoes and heavy whipping cream. You know, that kind of corn chowder. The kind that makes you grab at all the sweet corn you can get, and who cares if it's sweltering hot outside, and let's just add one more slice of bacon. There will be chowder.

The first isn't that kind of chowder, but still very good, and certainly worth making. It's light and easy, for those days when you'd rather skip the bacon and just enjoy the freshness and simplicity of the season's best produce. It's the kind that you make when your fiance is out of town because according to him, there should be no other chowder except that with bacon. Instead, this one features summer squash, which is flowing like water at the farmers markets right now, so go ahead and just make this already.

I made mine in my brand new Le Creuset, which my sister Jenny got for me as a bridesmaid present when she got married. Fresh vegetables, corn chowder, shiny new things, and a future (and fridge) full of possibilities. Happy summer, indeed.

Summer Squash and Corn Chowder (from Cooking Light)
The original recipe does call for bacon, but I skipped it and thought it was mighty fine without.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup sliced green onions, divided
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 cups yellow summer squash, chopped
2 cups fresh sweet corn
2 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk, divided
salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup onions, garlic, celery, and squash to pan, and saute 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Reserve 1 cup corn and set aside. Place the remaining corn and 1 cup milk in a blender, and process until smooth. (I used a stick blender and a large bowl, and left the mixture slightly chunky.) Add corn mixture and remaining milk and corn to pan. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a garnish of green onions and fresh grape tomatoes.

Serves 4.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Textures of love. And veggies.

When you love someone, you love all of him. There's no separating the good and the bad and taking what you want, like picking the onions or peas out of a dish and setting them aside, only to throw them out or leave them for someone else to finish off. Every piece of him comes together to become who he really is, who you fell in love with, and who you want to be with for the rest of your life.

I was thinking about love as I ate dinner tonight. There was something about the way all of the ingredients melded together to create this perfect dish. It was a medley of sorts, a handful of vegetables I bought at the farmers market yesterday -- zucchini, green onions, beet greens, sweet corn, tomatoes -- sauteed with black beans, squirted with lemon, topped with a sunny side up egg, and mixed together with the yolk's rich sauce. No fancy seasonings or complicated sauces, but simply the flavor and texture of each ingredient, strong enough to stand alone but mixed together to create something much more. Yeah, it was good.


I took my plate outside before I dug in, and set it out on the balcony to take a few pictures. As I stood on a chair and took overhead shots of my plate, Murdo watched from the window and shook his head. That's when I realized that I have my quirks, too, and he loves all of them, too. My obsession for eggs, my need to take a photo from every angle before I eat, my love for tinned sardines and ramen noodles (never together though, don't worry). Each is its own texture. I thought of all this while I ate, and it made me enjoy this dish even more.

You probably have a recipe like this one in your back pocket. It's a simple go-to and a great way to enjoy summer's bounty. It's quick and requires little thinking. And you probably have your favorite veggies that you like to add, but I'm sharing this particular recipe with you because like I said, there was something about the textures of these ingredients that just went together so lovingly. The black beans work as a soft, thick base, while the beet stems offer crunch. The zucchini is tender and meaty, and the corn is sweet and plump. The tomatoes are juicy, the egg is rich and creamy.

I understand that love is much more complex that a pot of black beans and veggies. Trust me, I get that. But for just a moment tonight, it was so much simpler. It was a smile and a shake of the head through a window, and for a moment it all made sense.

Corn, Zucchini, and Black Bean Saute

2 medium zucchini, chopped
Corn stripped from one ear
1 bunch beet greens and stems, chopped
handful of green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
handful of grape tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh lemon juice

Heat olive oil in large saute pan. Add garlic and green onion, cook for a minute or two before adding zucchini, then cook another 3-5 minutes. Add corn and black beans, cook until heated through, about another 5 minutes. Add beet greens and stems and cook until greens are just wilted, then add tomatoes. Squirt juice from a wedge or two of lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with a sunny side up egg.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wedding pie.

There comes a moment in every bride-to-be's life when she says to herself, "Oh, crap." And not because she's freaked out about getting married, but because her wedding is in three months and that's about the time when "Oh, crap" becomes a regular phrase in her daily routine.

Needless to say, we've been busy around these parts lately, but thankfully, I've been checking a whole lot of "Oh craps" off my list and it feels pretty good. We registered. We ordered invitations. We met with the florist. We built stairs. We tasted PIE.


Say it with me now: PIE. PAHHH. As in, weddin' PAHHH. That's the great thing about having a wedding at a lake house in Michigan, in a big tent in the backyard, in September. Pie just feels so right.

We went to a place called Crane's Pie Pantry in Fennville, Michigan. The bakery and restaurant also had an orchard, with rows and rows of fruit to be picked and baked and loved. Next door, there was a house with a row of overalls hanging on a clothesline. Inside the restaurant, ads from the '50s hung on the wall and an old school bench stood in the corner. Laura Crane brought us pie slices on a tray, served with glass mugs filled with milk.

And the pie. People, the PAHHH. The only thing better than a warm slice of gooey, cozy pie is 10 of them, in every flavor, circling the table as you hold a fork firmly in hand and declare that they're all good. I want them all. There was apple, of course, and cherry, rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, blueberry strudel, apple crisp, peach, and cherry crisp. Good thing it takes about 30 pies to feed 200 wedding guests, because I might just get what I want. All of them.

I may also need an apron to wear over my wedding dress, because I'm not sure I'll be able to stay away from the blueberries. Add wedding apron to the list. Oh, crap.

We're getting there, though. Definitely getting there.