Friday, January 29, 2010

Edible Winter Blues: Blueberry Muffin-tops

Edible Winter Blues.

How depressing is it to live in the UK during the winter? Pretty damn depressing. I won't mince words. I have a real issue with any place that has more doom-and-gloom than light-and-love during the winter months. Before we left for Christmas holidays in the US, it was getting dark at about, oh, 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Can you blame me if I started considering buying one of those "SAD lights?"

Lately I've been looking for ways to cheer myself and Roman up and kick ourselves out of the somewhat inevitable and yet awful to go through
"winter blues." We're off the holiday-high: no more trips home, no more relatives or excuses to cook giant feasts and pig-out at will (not for a while anyway...mardi gras is right around the corner :)). We needed something warm, cuddly and wonderful (and I'm not allowed to watch the most recent episodes of Community aka Joel McHale TV HOTNESS without Matt, so that doesn't count). The answer was simpler than I imagined.

Blueberries in a Tagine, highly aesthetically pleasing.

Roman is a blueberry-eating-monster. I, myself, had never really been much of a fan until Roman and I ate an entire punnet of the little blueish ones in Texas over Christmas one early, early breakfast. Now, I'm hooked. And while I admit that I do prefer them cold, raw and under-ripe, I will say that the recipe I broke out for Matt and his American pastry-loving heart's sake, is a sure-fire way to cure even the worst case of the winter-time blues.

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Top 5 Things About Winter That Don't Make Me BLUE
just as much a psychological exercise for myself as a list for the blog

5. The Cold Brisk Air
I usually complain about cold wind, especially if I haven't had a chance to warm up. But I LOVE brisk, cold air when I'm walking outside in the winter. If I walk fast, I warm up and almost need the cold to feel comfortable, and that is really pleasant.

4. Fires, Unless Matt is Building Them.
Matt is obsessed with building fires in fireplaces. Maybe because ours doesn't work / is too small to accommodate the monstrosities Matt loves to build. Maybe because it's a manly thing (even though I bet I'd give him a run for his money with my mad Girl Scout skills!). Either way, I love fires in the winter and how snuggly they make the room feel.

3. Throw Blankets and Old Sweaters.
Being a dweller of cold places, I have amassed quite a collection of comfy old sweaters and lovely throw blankets. As for the sweaters, they never get old. Worn in and perfectly warm, they are the kind of thing you never throw out or give to Goodwill, even when they get holes. As for the blankets, it seems like we are never in shortage, and now that my brother-in-law gave us a Snuggie, we can also conveniently do things with our hands while getting warm.

2. Roman's Midgety One-piece Outfits
In Mexico we call them "Mamelucos" (I'm not sure why as that phrase has some seriously questionable historical implications), and I think they are the cutest little outfits kids can wear. they are perfect for the winter, as Ralphie's Aunt Clara knew well, because they cover their feet completely and usually just have one zipper that goes the entire length of the body making changing diapers very simple. Roman has many of these, some with funny animal-like feet, or spaceships on them. No matter the design, I love them all.

1. Warm, Freshly-Baked, Baked Goods.
It feels kind of wrong to come home to a hot oven and warm cookies on the counter top in the middle of summer. The grey winter sky and cold-tingly fingers and toes make the experience one that is no longer just pleasant, but requisite for survival. I LOVE to bake in the winter, and I love people who bake for me in the winter (as long as their food doesn't suck!). And that very conveniently leads us to today's recipe...

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Blueberry "Top-of-the-Muffin-To-Ya" Muffin Tops
based on this recipe

Makes 12

Nothing depressing about this.

For those of you who don't know about "muffin-tops," first off: I'm truly sorry. Go get yourself the 8th season of Seinfeld and /or get to your nearest New York deli or diner and eat JUST the top of a muffin. It only takes a few seconds to realize that really is the best part of the whole muffin, and therefore worth replicating in its selective entirety. Thanks to my friend Laura and the muffin-top tray I inherited from her when she moved back to Dallas, I can make Matt's dreams come true in the form of crumbly, delicious, blueberriness.

I got this recipe from, my go-to recipe site, but tweaked a little, adding lemon zest into the batter and cinnamon into the topping. Be GENEROUS with the topping. It may seem like a lot when the dough is unbaked, but once the tops puff-up, it will seem like just enough. Seriously, PILE IT ON. And top of the muffin to ya!

For batter
6 tbsps (~100g) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup whole milk
1 whole large egg + 1 large yolk
3/4 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries (12 oz)

For topping

3 1/2 tbsps cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
a little less than 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Special equipment: Enough muffin-top pans for 12 Muffin-tops, or regular muffin pans.


1. Preheat to 375°F. Generously butter muffin pans.

2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

3. In a separate small bowl whisk melted butter and milk together, then whisk in the whole egg, yolk, lemon zest and vanilla until combined well.

4. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

5. Fold in blueberries gently but thoroughly.

6. Divide batter among the muffin sheets, spreading evenly.

7. Rub together all topping ingredients in a bowl with your fingertips until crumbly (this may take a minute or two but make sure there are no giant lumps of butter left!) then sprinkle evenly over batter on sheets. The whole muffin should be copiously covered in topping!

8. Bake until golden and crisp and a wooden pick or skewer inserted diagonally into center of a muffin comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

Before and After.

9. Cool in pans on a rack 15 minutes, then run a knife around edge of each muffin top and carefully remove from cups.

Perfect for a cheerful breakfast or afternoon tea!
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Randomized and Semi-Legitimized Self-Absorption Continues.

Celebratory holiday-cracker paper crowns: random and semi-legitimate in a good way

A year ago I started this blog, kicking it off with an almost-but-not-quite self-deprecating
confession of a blogger-wannabe and rounding it off with the infamous "25 Random Things About Me" post, or, a long, drawn out way to semi-legitimize my own brand of self-absorption, courtesy of the 20 million people who tagged me in their "20 Random Things" post on facebook (yeah, I made it 25 because I had more to say).

Honestly, why do people bother? What makes them or me think anybody wants to read 20 random pieces of information about them, almost all of which are entirely useless in the real-world and probably only interesting on a highly questionable level? Well, (again with the honesty) let's be honest, someone could probably (and probably already has) write his dissertation on the 20 Random Thing post phenomenon alone, much less blogging and why people are drawn to do it or read it.
All of this writing and telling of random things that are self-absorbed and only semi-legitimized got me to thinking - why not kick off this year's blogging with 20 more random things about myself?

As if you haven't already gleaned enough insider information from my posts, here it is, all in one convenient location and with more detail than necessary (we all know that's how I roll), all random, and all about little old me.

PS: I'm not reading last year's post until I'm done writing this. It'll be interesting to see how similar they are. :)

PPS: Happy 2010. I'm less than a year from 30. But who's counting?

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20 Random Things About Me

1. Eggs are not my favorite food, but if I had to name the one food I have consistently eaten almost every single day of my life (when given the choice) and not gotten sick of, it would be them. Sunny-side up. None of this "over-easy" bullshit.

2. In the past year I have gone from claiming to hate baking to loving and often indulging in it. I used to take the "I'm-too-creative-I-just-wing-it-all-the-time-that's-why-I-prefer-cooking approach." I now consider that philosophy and those who ascribe to it arrogant, lame and lazy. Just follow the damn recipe.
The results are worth it.

3. This year over Christmas break I tried a "buttered rum" for the first time while dining with good friends at the
Griswold Inn. I can now say with clarity why it is that I always hated the butter-rum dum-dums: those flavors should only be savored in liquid form. All the faster to consume them.

4. I, in part, ended up majoring in Classics at University because I had a crush on one of the Art History professors who gave the lecture in my intro to Art History class freshman year. (Let me be clear, the feeling was not mutual, but I got a hell of an education out of the deal. :) )

5. When I grow up I want an orchard. And I want it to have lots of different fruit and flower trees including but not limited to: lemon, lime, cherry, apple, orange, pear, fig, almond, mulberry, oak, olive, bay, sycamore (far from the house because I'm allergic), mimosa, magnolia...

6. I hate walking through the perfume section in department stores because it gives me a headache.

7. I think I'm addicted to food. Maybe now is not the time for that confession, but there it is. :)

8. I reiterate that I think I would never get sick of eating giant shrimp, especially ones grilled on a hot summer day, having been previously marinated in olive oil, garlic and pepperoncino, with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

9. One of the only books I've ever read more than once is Tuck Everlasting (a girl named Amy gave it to me for my birthday in Fourth Grade). I read it once a year (if not more) up well into high school, and it made me cry inconsolably every single time.

10. My favorite Jolly Rancher is Sour Apple and my least favorite is Watermelon. That has always and will always be true, I suspect.

11. I once hitch-hiked from North Germany to Amsterdam with some friends and, contrary to what everyone would have you believe about hitchhiking, I indeed lived to tell the tale. That said, I'd probably flip if Roman or any of my future kids ever wanted to do it themselves. :D

12. I poach eggs in the microwave on a pretty regular basis, and feel no shame whatsoever about that.

13. I love to shop at the Salvation Army for nick-nacks. LOVE it.

14. I find myself happiest around people who abstain from discussing their political views in overzealous-addict-like-kool-aid-drinking-semi-religious fashion.

15. One of my new favorite foods is Keema Gobhi.

16. I want desperately to learn to ski well - both downhill and cross-country and seriously regret not taking those sports up as hobbies in the pre-child life.

17. My favorite teachers in school were always my English teachers.

18. And yes, I did almost always sit in the front of the class, but I was not a suck-up.

19. I love to pick pomegranates apart, one little nugget of juicy deliciousness at a time, and make it a personal challenge to not burst a single one every time I do it.

20. I often indulge in talking to an imaginary cooking show audience while I cook, and think my food actually comes out better because of the feedback I get. :)

Who knows how much blogging I'll actually do in this second year, but here goes nothin'... :)

This post is brought to you by the Theme from "The Monkees." Because it doesn't get any more random and semi-legitimate than that.
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