Blueberry Muffins

Because sometimes when you’re easing back into a creative side of life, a little lemon scented sugar, blueberries, and a tried and true recipe is really all you need.

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 1 dozen

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted shortening

1 tsp lemon zest
1/8 cup sugar

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate dish combine zest and sugar, and rub together with fingers to mix. Set scented sugar aside.

In a separate bowl mix together sugar, egg, milk, shortening. Mix the wet and the dry ingredients until the mixture has just barely come together. Add blueberries. Top muffins with lemon scented sugar. Spoon into baking cups, bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Perfect with a pad of butter and a hot cup of coffee!


Vanilla Extract

I’ve been fascinated by making my own vanilla extract since reading about it on several of the different blogs I read–it seemed to be the thing to do last summer, and I never got around to doing it.  But a few weeks ago Olive Nation had a 20% off coupon that made purchasing a bunch of whole vanilla beans seem a little less daunting.   They arrived really quickly, and as soon as we cut into the vaccum sealed back, the whole first floor instantly smelled amazingly delicious.  We were certainly impressed with the product, and I should have known that a company from my home state would be exceptional!

After reading a bit on the best way to do this, we settled on the “soak the cut in half beans in cheap-ass vodka for 4-6 months” method.  For a half gallon of vodka, you need 40 vanilla beans, and all you do is split them in half, but in a jar, pour the vodka over it, and put in a cool dark place and forget about it.  In 4- 6 months you revisit the jars, strain, bottle the liquid and enjoy.  The leftover beans should still have a little oomph left in them, so you can dry them off and stick in sugar to create vanilla sugar (AMAZEBALLS).

Why go through all this trouble just to say you have homemade vanilla?  Two reasons:

  1. It’s cheaper.  Like, significantly cheaper.  Even though it’s seems like a lot upfront (I’m in it about $35 dollars at this point), it’ll end up being about 50 cents and ounce once all is said and done.  Have you priced out pure vanilla extract lately?  Last I looked it was about $4.26 plus tax for two ounces.
  2. Do you really know what’s in your vanilla extract?  I looked for giggles on my off brand big-box store vanilla and saw the following, “Vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol, corn syrup”.  Um, I spend $3.50 for “pure” vanilla extract, and you put corn syrup in it? Really? Something doesn’t sound right with this one….

The concoction is currently sitting in the basement curing away, but we’ll be sure to report the final result once we hit that 6 month mark.  In the meantime I’m dreaming up ways to use up the remaining beans, and I think I’ve convinced the fam to make some more when were up visiting in a few weeks.  I think we have a lot of ice cream and vanilla scented jams coming our way!

Coffee Cake: “Summer-ized”

Cherries have always been something that I knew I could bring into the house and no matter where I set them, they were mine.  JGL swore up and down, “I don’t like cherries.”  Even after all of my cherry craze last year, he would not budge.  So when I splurged after playing with my favorite god-daughter last week and brought home local cherries, I had no fears about if they would suddenly go missing.  Those cherries were mine and mine alone!

Until I made the mistake of asking JGL to hold a handful for me on the porch while I got up to grab something.  When I came back he had a stem in one hand and a contemplative look on his face.  “They taste like plums.”

Well shit.  JGL got brave, and now I’m sharing cherries.  Which isn’t all bad because it does allow me to try cherry based recipes, and for that I should be grateful.

Diving right into this new-to-JGL-fruit, today we revisited coffee cake.  I had read somewhere about replacing the cinnamon sugar filling with jam, and with JGL’s new found love of cherries, we used the cherry jam I made last summer.   In addition to the jam, I used up the last of the cake flour I had on had from a chocolate cake experiment.

The end result was a finer crumb than my normal coffee cake, and an incredibly moist slice.  Having the jam as the filling made the coffee cake taste less like the holidays, and more like the summer.  This is going to be perfect tomorrow morning with our morning coffee, or maybe even tonight as a late night snack with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Summer Coffee Cake
Adapted from here
1/4 lb butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
Cherry jam
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Put half of the batter into buttered tube pan, and spoon filling on top of batter.  Put the other half of the batter on top, and smooth.  Bake at 375 oven for 40-50 minutes.  Cool on rack, then serve.  

Honey Cake and Spring

We turned the heat off in the house over a week ago. The windows have been letting the perfect 75 degree air flow through our house taking any stale winter blues that were left lingering. In essence, it not only feels like spring, but it feels absolutely invigorating and inspiring!

Nothing says spring to me more than the return of fresh fruit to the grocery store and markets. Our strawberry plants are starting to bloom, and the strawberries in the store are a good second best while we wait for our own crop to develop. We love macerating berries in honey, and as soon as I saw the below recipe I knew we would have to try it. It is just about as perfect as Spring 2012 is shaping up to be–a dense cake with added texture from the cornmeal topped with folds of whipped cream and beautiful berries.

I say take one below because I want to try a few things with it, such as omitting the nuts and playing around with the glaze. It’s amazing to start with, but I think it can be improved. Plus we have two willing taste testers at the L. Homestead–anything for culinary research 😉

Happy Noshing!


Pecan-Honey Cake with Berries and Cream, Take One
Adapted from BHG, April 2012 pg 180
2 Tbsp honey, divided
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 pint strawberries sliced
1/2 pineapple, sliced into pieces about the same size as your strawberry slices
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup pecans, ground
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp orange juice
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp honey, divided
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a 9 by 1 1/2 round cake pan.
Combine strawberries and pineapple (or whatever fruit is fresh and tastes good to you) in a bowl and stir in the 2 Tbsp of honey and balsamic vinegar. Set aside and let macerate while you make the cake.
In a medium bowl combine flour, cornmeal, nuts, baking powder and salt; put to one side. In a large bowl beat butter for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of the honey and beat into butter until nice and fluffy. Slowly beat in eggs, one at a time. Add 3/4 of the flour mixture and mix until it just barely comes together. Add milk and remaining flour mixture and fold in with a spatula until combined (being careful not to over mix). Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes (in my oven it took more like 45-50 minutes to get it to set).
Meanwhile combine 1/4 cup honey and orange juice in a small saucepan and set on stove on low to heat through (if combining just before cake comes out, you can turn up the heat to warm it through quicker). When cake is finished and has cooled in the pan for about 5 minutes, remove from pan and place on your cake plate. Poke cake with a toothpick to create multiple holes on the top, then brush on the honey-orange juice so it absorbs into the cake. Set cake aside to cool completely.
Just before serving, create topping. Combine cream cheese and 2 Tbps of honey, beat on high for 30 seconds. Add whipping cream and beat until soft mounds form. Spoon cream onto cake, and then top with fruit.

Coffee Cake

Years ago my grandmother gave me a bundt pan.  When I first moved out on my own I brought it with me, and it has served me well over the years–creating cakes, ice rings, flower-pot holders–all the good things a good bundt pan should do.  This time of year it’s not quite the holidays in my family unless you’ve made a boatload of Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cakes, and the bundt pan, particularly THIS bundt pan, creates a perfectly shaped cake, and it bears all of the battle scars of a well-loved kitchen tool to prove it.

But I lost it.  I went to make cakes last year and couldn’t find the blessed thing.  I had a freak out, and tore apart every cabinet and every shelf in the house, and tried to retrace my bundt-steps, and finally concluded that the thing grew legs and walked off.  I was inconsolable for about 24 hours, and then tried to accept my failure at handling precious heirlooms, and then gave up on coffee cake making all together.

This week I made my mind up to suck it up, use the other bundt pan, and get on with my life.  I reached into the cabinet that holds those pans, wrapped my fingers around one and pulled, and much to my disbelief Gram’s pan came out.  I have no idea where it was hiding, but like an old friend with whom the conversation is easy no matter how long you’ve been apart, this pan and I kicked some serious coffee cake ass.

The batter for these comes together super quick, and it’s very easy to bust out several (I made six in one day…eep!) in one session.  I love giving them as neighborhood gifts, but they also make welcomed additions at potlucks, breakfasts, or my favorite, Christmas Morning Breakfast.

Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1/4 lb butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or for a nice twist almond extract)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Put half of the batter into buttered tube pan, and sprinkle filling liberally over batter.  Put the other half of the batter on top, and then top with filling.  Bake at 375 oven for 35-40 minutes.  Cool on rack, sugared side up, then serve.  
GAL’s note on filling:  I mix this in triplicate in a small tupperware container so it’s always on hand.  Makes for great cinnamon sugar toast or for when you want to whip up a quick apple pie.  

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

I have always been a sucker for the rosemary olive oil artisan loaf at the grocery store.  It was always such a luxurious treat, and I just always thought it heightened any meal it was with.  My sister thought it tasted like soap, so the fact that she wasn’t too fond of it also made me love it more.  When I was traveling in New England I found such a loaf at the grocery store and while it was DELICIOUS, I kept thinking to myself, what the heck is so special about this that we can’t make it at home?  I have a robust rosemary plant in the herb garden, why the heck not?

Folks, the homemade stuff is even better than I thought it would be.  We made these the same weekend as the apple cider doughnuts, so we were on baking overload, but the house smelled just like fall.  For the bread, I did chop the rosemary leaves extra fine because I always hate getting a leaf or three in a bite of the store-bought stuff, and it was homemade bakery magic.

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread (adapted from the Country Loaf recipe in the Big Red Cookbook)

5ish cups of bread flour

1 tsp sugar

2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 large bunches of rosemary, finely chopped

2 cups warm water

2 tbs olive oil

2 tsp salt

  • Mix two cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast and rosemary in a large bowl.  Add water, and beat on low for 1 minute.  Set aside in a warm place and let stand for about 1 hour
  • Stir in Oil and salt.  Stir in remianing flour, and either knead by hand, or take the lazy woman’s way out and use your kneading attachment.  Knead for about 10 minutes.  Roll into a tight ball, and place on a cookie sheet.  Let rise until it is double in size.  Once doubled, use a serrated knife to cut 1/4 inch slashes in the top of the loaf (and don’t be freaked out when it deflates!).  Let set for about another 45 minutes until it has rised again.
  • Heat oven to 425 and bake break 35-40 minutes until golden brown and delicious.  Pull from oven and let cool, but this is best served warm (so about 30 minutes after pulling from the oven).

Apple Pie Cake

I found the biggest apples I’ve ever seen at a local orchard the other day, and just had to bring them home.  I mean these things are huge–I would put them at almost a pound a piece.  In addition to munching happily with some cashew butter from the Mennonite store down the street, I’ve also been trying to incorporate them into some baking projects as well.

One of my favorite apple recipes is from my Godmother–it’s sweet, spicy, and perfect with a dollop of whipped cream.  This time around I swapped out whole week flour, and it still baked up moist and tender–you can’t even really tell that I made the swap.    Not only did it taste delicious, it made the entire house smell like gorgeous fall goodness!

On the horizon is going to be trying to make a green tomato and apple chutney, but that project will have to be tackled when I get back from my last recruiting trip of the season.  Soon, folks, soon!

Apple Pie Cake
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp course sea salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Whipped Cream to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter;  once melted blend in sugar and egg.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until blended.  Turn into a greased and floured 9 inch pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes (I always struggle to get the middle done just right–this time around I cut the oven off at the 45 minute mark and let the cake sit in the cooling oven with the door shut for about 15 minutes.  Center was done, and the cake wasn’t burnt).

Blueberry Peach Crisp

As soon as I slip on my work clothes, jump in the car and then head up the road, Staycation 2011 will be officially over.  A part of me is really sad–I really have loved jumping into our version of homesteading wholeheartedly.  But the other part is really excited to get back–we have five new people in the office, and once I walk through my office door my new responsibilities will really start to kick in full force.  It’s bittersweet, but there’s always next summer, right?  Right!

But it is Monday Morning, and I figured everyone might could use a pick-me-up (I certainly could), so I got up early to whip this up–sweet, delicious, and not too terribly bad for you, too (if you’re following Weight Watchers like JGL and I, if you divide this into 8 servings, it is 3 points plus a serving).   I used some of the homemade ricotta cheese that I saw on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen (I swear, she’s a genius!) which made the topping rich and creamy, but if you don’t have ricotta you could certainly supplement with butter.

I’m hoping this will make my reentry into the work force a little sweeter, and here’s hoping it’ll make your morning a little sweeter too.

Blueberry Peach Crisp
2 pounds peaches, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 cups blueberries
2 TBS lemon juice
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup homemade ricotta cheese
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract 
  • Combine sliced peaches, blueberries, lemon juice and fresh ginger in a bowl and toss.  
  • In a separate bowl combine last seven ingredients, and mix until crumbly.  If the mixture is too dry, add 1 TBS of almond milk or regular milk to help the mixture come together.  
  • Pour peach mixture into a cooking dish, then top with the crumble. Place into oven and bake about 30 minutes, or until the crisp is bubbling and browned on top.
  • You can serve this for breakfast, but it would be really delicious served as a dessert with some ice cream

Strawberry and Cream Muffins (and a strawberry pie for later)

Today is JGL’s birthday, and because it’s JGL’s birthday, we’ll finally be using up those strawberries we picked from last week.  It’s been hard hoarding them, but I think the end result will have been worth it.

As long as I’ve known JGL, he has never wanted actual cake on his birthday.  The one thing he wanted was strawberry pie.  So I rigged up a recipe 5 years ago when we first started dating, and it’s become a birthday tradition.

The added bonus this morning was there were enough berries for the Strawberry and Cream Oatmeal Muffins I’ve been dreaming up for the past few days.  They have a similar base to my blueberry muffins, but with a few key swaps–oatmeal added for some of the flour, baking soda, yogurt to replace the milk, and butter to replace the shortening.  The end result?

An amazingly healthy and sweet start to JGL’s awesome day!

So here’s to you, JGL–know that I am so incredibly proud of how far you’ve come (and the fact that you’ve stuck to your Weight Watcher’s Guns and have lost 28 pounds even with all of my crazy baking!), and I can’t wait to see where this journey continues to take us.  Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this wild, crazy, beautiful ride.

With Love,

Your GAL

JGL’s Strawberry and Cream Oatmeal Birthday Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
1 1/2 cup white wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1/4  cup melted butter
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add oatmeal and salt to sifted mixture.  
In a separate bowl mix together sugar, egg, yogurt, strawberries and butter.  Mix the wet and the dry ingredients until the mixture has just barely come together.  Top muffins with a little extra oatmeal and sugar.  Spoon into baking cups, bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Stick a birthday candle in and enjoy!
JGL’s Birthday Strawberry Pie
8 oz of 7 Up (you can substitute diet if you’re watching what you eat)
4 TBS Cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
red food coloring
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 baked pie shell (graham cracker crust is also a suitable substitute) 
Mix first three ingredients and cook and stir over medium high heat until thick (and when I mean thick, I mean thick–it should start to thicken up but still be cloudy, you want it to go from cloudy to clear–then you’re done).  Cool and then add red food coloring to make it look…well, more like strawberries.  A little coloring goes a long way–you want pinky, not blood-red.
Once this mixture is room temperature, stir in berries (don’t get greedy on this step–put it in when it’s still warm and you will have soupy pie.  Trust me, been there done that).  Pour into pie shell and cool in fridge for at least one hour before serving.  Goes well with a bit of whipped topping, birthday candles and love (awwwwww!)

UPDATE:  Check out Sweet as Sugar Cookies blog for her Sweets for a Saturday link up–there are some super amazing yummy treats going on out there!


Banana Nut Muffins

I was going to blog about these last week, but then I think every single food blog I follow blogged about banana bread in every variation you could imagine within days of each other.  So I waited until this morning to jump on the banana nut bandwagon.  I even added one muffin just for JGL with a strawberry banana combo, just like one of my favorite food bloggers, Joy the Baker, did.  It stayed in the mix long enough to snap this picture, and then it was ostracized to the other end of the kitchen until JGL ate it.  Sadly, I’ve never been able to stomach the strawberry banana combo–don’t even get me started on that one time when my banana contaminated my cashew butter and strawberry jam sandwich….

But I digress…this recipe is one I’ve been tweaking for about four years now.  I found the skeleton of it when trying to find a recipe for a friend who couldn’t eat refined sugar, and from that point on I’ve been slowly tweaking, adding, and improving the recipe bit by bit, year by year. If you’re really watching your figure, you can replace the oil with more plain yogurt, but I think a little bit of veggie oil helps these guys have an incredibly luscious texture.

One of my favorite aspects of this recipe is the use of honey, and I have found that local honey really brightens the flavor, texture, and just basically everything about these baked goods.  One of my favorite ways to serve is fresh out of the oven, cracked open with a little bit of butter and then more honey drizzled over the melting butter.

Serve generously, serve often, and the exprience is heightened with a fresh cup of coffee and a warm puppy curled up by your feet.

Ain't she precious when she's sleeping?

GAL’s Banana Nut Muffins
Makes 24 muffins, or 2 loaves of bread
1 cup honey
1/2 cup plain low fat yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1/2-1 cup pecans, walnuts or whatever your favorite nut is (optional)
3 cups white wheat or whole wheat flour
3 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Combine flour, BP, BS and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl combine honey, oil, yogurt, eggs, and bananas–mix well.  Add nuts to wet ingredients, and then carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet.  Mix until just blended.  Pour into greased muffin tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through.
This also makes great banana bread–use bread pan and cook for 1 hour.