Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm back from the land of sunshine!

Mr. ValleyWriter and I headed out to California last week (hence the need to clean out the cupboards and fridge with those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink muffins the week before. We hit San Diego, Carlsbad, Temecula and LA/Hollywood. It was an awesome trip - and we crammed in a lot! But, it was my first time in CA, so I wanted to see as much as I could. I thought I'd share a few highlights (of course including some culinary highlights, too!)

First we started out in San Diego, where we hit the zoo:
Then we moved on to Carlsbad, where we saw some awesome sunsets over the ocean:

Then it was on to LA, where we went to one of the highlights of the trip - Pink's! (For those who don't know, Pink's is a famous hot dog stand in Hollywood.)

(I ordered a chili cheese dog, on the left; Mr. ValleyWriter ordered the "America the Beautiful" dog,
on the right.)

(Mr. ValleyWriter's dog was enormous! It was loaded with bacon, pastrami, lettuce and tomatoes - and he ate the whole thing!)

And our last stop was Temecula wine country:

It was a great trip, filled with sunshine, beaches, good food and good wine - but there's nothing like being home again. Fortunately, I have tons of photos and memories to last a long time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apple Carrot Raisin Muffins

These muffins could really be called "everything but the kitchen sink" muffins, but I thought "apple carrot raisin" sounded a little more appetizing. I've been trying to clear out the fridge and pantry over the last few days, so we're now out of soy milk for cereal (which I normally have for breakfast) and cereal bars (which Mr. ValleyWriter usually has). So I knew I had to come up with something to get us through the next few mornings.

With apples, a couple of carrots and some greek yogurt hanging around, I came up with these healthy muffins. Honestly, I wasn't sure they were going to work (I had some reservations about the yogurt, especially since it was blueberry yogurt), but they actually turned out really tasty. Very moist, yet still light. These might well become a regular here, even when I'm not trying to clean out the cupboards!

Apple Carrot Raisin Muffins
(Makes 12)

1 1/2 c. raisin bran cereal (I use Total® Raisin Bran, which has the added benefit of being loaded with vitamins and minerals)
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
6 oz. fat-free greek yogurt (I used blueberry because that's what I had, but plain or vanilla would work, too)
1/4 c. oil
2 small apples, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 carrots, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix cereal, flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg, yogurt and oil until well mixed. Stir into dry mixture until evenly mixed. (NOTE: The mixture will seem VERY dry, but that's OK. The apple and carrots will add moisture.)
Fold in apples and carrots and mix well until batter is fully moistened.
Spray a muffin pan well with oil.
Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full with batter.
Bake 18-20 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh. My. Apple Fritters! (with vanilla bean glaze)

Last week, Kelly at Evil Shenanigans posted a recipe for Apple Bacon Fritters with Maple Bourbon Glaze that had me drooling over the computer screen and craving apple fritters. The craving hit hard last night... at about 7 o'clock... when I had no time to let a yeast dough rise. But that didn't stop me from having my apple fritters, once I found this recipe from The Picky Apple that relies on baking powder as its leavening agent.

I used The Picky Apple's recipe for the fritters almost exactly, just adding a 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg in with the cinnamon and using 1 small apple, rather than measuring out 1 cup exactly. (The Picky Apple doesn't say how many this recipe is supposed to make, but I got about a dozen golf ball-sized fritters.)

I did my own thing with the glaze after I spied a lonely vanilla bean calling to me from the spice cabinet. The beautiful flecks of fresh vanilla paired amazingly with the light, sweet dough of the fritters. Mmmm, mmmm, mmm - I dare you to try and eat just one!

Here's my recipe for the vanilla bean glaze:

1 vanilla bean
1 c. confectioner's sugar
about 1 Tbsp. milk


Split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape out the seeds with a knife.*
In a small bowl, mix together the confectioner's sugar and milk until smooth (you may need to add more milk just a small splash at a time to get the right consistency; it should be smooth and glaze-like, but not too runny).
Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the glaze and mix thoroughly.

That's all! Simple, but soooo tasty!

*Save the spent vanilla bean to make vanilla-infused sugar. Just place regular granulated white sugar in a jar with the vanilla bean and let sit at least a week. Use in place of granulated sugar in any recipe that could benefit from a little touch of vanilla.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's raspberry time!

Raspberries have just come into season here in the Pioneer Valley within the last week or two. Our CSA has a nice grove of raspberry bushes, where share holders can pick their own. We're having a party this weekend and I wanted to make a fruit dessert, so I was super excited to see the beautiful red berries aplenty when I headed down to the farm yesterday. Raspberry tarts it is, I decided!

Before we get to that recipe, though, I just have to say how much I've really enjoyed the u-pick crops at the farm this year. It's my 20-30 minutes every week to just kind of let go of all the stresses of life and focus on being in a huge field, often all by myself, carefully hunting for the perfect juicy strawberry, the plumpest peas or the sweetest raspberries. Being out there is almost like a form of meditation for me. I didn't expect this at all - but it really rejuvenates me. So, I'm looking forward to (hopefully) a couple more weeks of my raspberry picking meditations.

Now let's get on to the yummy tart recipe. These are actually little bite-sized tarts, made using a mini muffin pan. So easy, yet so good!

Mini Raspberry Tarts
(Makes 12-16)

For the crust:
1 stick butter
1 1/4 c. flour
2 Tbsp. vanilla-infused sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 Tbsp. cold water

For the filling:
3/4 c. raspberries, plus another 1/4-1/2 c. reserved
vanilla-infused sugar to taste

To make the crust, start by cutting the butter into small chunks, about 1/2" thick. Put it in freezer for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pulse together flour, sugar and salt in a food processor.
When ready, put chilled butter into the food processor and pulse until mixture is crumbly (butter chunks should be pea-sized or smaller).
Slowly add cold water 1 Tbsp. at a time, just until dough holds together when pinched.
Shape dough into a disk and refrigerate while you make the filling.
For the filling, mash 3/4 c. raspberries to a fairly smooth, jam-like consistency. Add vanilla-infused sugar 1 Tbsp. at a time until raspberry mixture is sweet enough for your taste (I like it sweet, so I use about 3 Tbsp.).
Now preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Take the dough out of the fridge and tear off a small hunk to fill the muffin pan about 2/3 of the way up. Press your thumb in the center of the dough to make a center and push the dough up the sides of the pan. Repeat until all the dough is used up.
Spread the filling mixture evenly between the crust cups you've created. Top each one with 2-3 fresh raspberries.
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes until crust is set.
Let cool at least 15 minutes before removing from pan (filling will be very hot!).