Citrus-Topped Double Blueberry Muffins from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 2013

I have a few rules I follow that have been created (by me) with the sole reason of making my life a bit easier.

One rule is that I don’t look at food-related web sites when Dudette or Hubby might walk by because then I’ll they’ll be begging me to make whatever it is that they see.

A biggie regards the snacks I buy for the family. I make sure to buy treats that not everyone likes. For instance, Dudette loves Funyuns but Hubby and I don’t.  Hubby’s fond of pretzels and while Dudette will eat them, they don’t reach crave level for her. Me, I can take them or leave them, mostly leave them. With this system I’m assured that when I reach for a bag of snacks to add to a lunch, they’ll be there.

Probably my first and foremost rule is that I don’t make frosted cupcakes. Hubby and I don’t need them and Dudette doesn’t care for them. I should clarify. Dudette loves the frosting.  She’s a champ at licking off ever microdot of flavored sugar and butter while leaving behind all the cake.

That’s why I make muffins. Since they don’t have frosting, muffins rely on all kinds of goodies packed inside to provide pizzazz and flavor. In this house, it’s much more likely for us to have our muffin and eat it too.

The Process

Dry goods mixed together. Wet goods mixed together. Wet meets dry and so the story goes.

The recipe calls for buttermilk or milk. I went milk since I didn’t have the other. I also used frozen blueberries.

I was probably a little light on the blueberry jam addition because two teaspoons was an awful lot when measured out.  I’m glad I did so too because I had several muffins overflow and drip in the oven. Messy.

The Verdict

Ah, this is good stuff. The cake part of the muffin is very tender and moist. The blueberries and jam only add to that. Please don’t think that it would be possible to get away with just spraying the muffin cups. Trying to remove them with the jam and berries would make a huge mess. The paper holders are essential.

Hubby came up from his man cave just to report on how good he thought these were (he may have snagged a second muffin on his way back down to watch more basketball). I’m not sure that we’ll have enough to test out how good they are with coffee, but I have a feeling they’d be fantastic.

Dudette was in on the muffin goodness. Well, I’ll let her tell you her thoughts herself.

 What I’d Do Different Next Time

Not a thing.

Citrus-Topped Double Blueberry Muffins from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 2013
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup buttermilk or milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • ½ cup blueberry preserves
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper liners. Set aside.
  2. Stir together flour, the ¾ cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of flour mixture; set aside.
  3. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and 6 Tbsp. melted butter; add all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in blueberries. Remove 1 cup of batter.
  4. Spoon remaining batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about half full. Spoon 2 tsp. of blueberry preserves into the center of each muffin. Top with remaining batter to cover the preserves, filling muffin cups about two-thirds full. Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  5. Meanwhile, stir together orange peel, lemon peel, and the 2 Tbsp. sugar. Remove muffins from oven; brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Sprinkle citrus-sugar mixture on top. Cool in muffin cups on wire rack 15 minutes. Serve warm.

As you can see, Better Homes and Gardens is one of my March magazines. This recipe is from a section providing uses for jams and jellies. Whether you’ve made your own or will be buying it from the store, the goodies in here look fantastic. I hope you’ll enjoy these too.

Bacon & Egg Spaghetti from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 2013

So, this whole mom of the year thing. Can we talk about it for a minute? Since it’s finally March, that means that any day we’ll start seeing advertisements and commercials for Mother’s Day (it’s May 12 for those who need to plan way in advance).

Will the panel of judges take into consideration the fact that Dudette goes to school every day fully dressed, hair brushed, with shoes on? Will they notice that her homework’s always done on time and pretty neatly at that?

While they’re tallying their votes, will they give me credit for the fact that my girl thinks the ‘S-word’ is ‘stupid’? And that she doesn’t allow anyone to use that word, or idiot or dumb for that matter, around her?

Is there any chance that these judges will ignore the fact that Dudette had Rice Krispies for breakfast. Or that Hubby had toast with butter. And that I had Bacon & Egg Spaghetti?

I didn’t think so.

The Process

Another good name for this dish would have been deconstructed spaghetti carbonara. Aside from the toasted bread and garlic, all the components are there.

The directions are straightforward and not difficult, but there will be a bit of clean up after eating. Food processor bowl, baking dish, pasta pot and a large skillet will all be waiting in the sink.

The Verdict

Since Hubby and Dudette were unfortunately at work and school respectively, I had to taste test this all by my lonesome.  In the same way spaghetti carbonara is amazing, so is this, with an added yumminess from crunchy toast and savory garlic.

I think eggs and pasta belong together. I love how the yolk coats the strands and gives it such a creamy, wonderful texture. Add the salty bacon and crunchy toast and I’m in heaven.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I found the somewhat crunchy bottom of the fried egg tasty but tough to cut through. I’d poach it instead to give me more creaminess and less fat in my meal.

Bacon & Egg Spaghetti from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 2013
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 slice white or whole grain bread, torn into pieces
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces dried spaghetti
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • Snipped fresh chives (optional)
  • grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • cracked black pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor combine bread, 1 Tbsp. Parmesan, and 1½ tsp. olive oil. Cover and process until coarse crumbs form. Spread in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire rack.
  2. In a large pot cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; set aside. Reserve ¾ cup pasta water.
  3. Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp; drain well on paper towels. Tear bacon into large pieces; set aside. Keep skillet warm reserving 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the drippings in the skillet.
  4. In the same large pot used for the pasta cook garlic in remaining 2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add salt and crushed red pepper. Add cooked pasta and remaining Parmesan to saucepan. Add enough reserved pasta water to desired consistency; toss to coat.
  5. In the large skillet heat bacon drippings over medium heat. Break eggs into the skillet. Reduce heat to low; cook eggs for 3 to 4 minutes or until desired doneness.
  6. Divide spaghetti among 4 plates. Top with bacon and toasted bread crumbs. Serve with eggs. Sprinkle with chives, Parmesan cheese, and pepper, if desired.

 

Slow Cooker Country Captain vs. Bravo's Top Chef Stress

Nine times out of ten, when Hubby passes through the family room while I’m watching Bravo’s Top Chef Seattle, he’ll ask me the same question, ‘Would you do it?’

A big part of me sits in the ‘no way’ camp. In fact, after last Wednesday’s Finale I, that part of me is bigger than it was on Tuesday.

To make it to the finale, the three chefs that remained were given the run of Tom Colicchio’s kitchen at Craft, his restaurant. Their challenge was to each come up with three courses in three hours for Tom’s real customers while he acts as expediter during serving.

Let’s unpack that paragraph a little, shall we?

To make it to the finale.  This is it. Lose this one and there’s no Last Chance Kitchen left. It’s do or die.  Feel the blood pressure rise a little and the heart rate jump up a notch.

Given the run of Tom Colicchio’s kitchen at Craft. That little sentence packs a big punch. Tom Colicchio. I love the man’s blue eyes, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of them in this context. To be dumped in the heart of his culinary reputation? As one of the chefs said during the episode, you start to sweat in places you didn’t know you could sweat.

Three courses in three hours. Appetizer, main course and dessert. All three dishes from concept to delivery in one hundred and eighty minutes. Even more importantly, dishes of such quality to stand up to critiquing by Emeril, John Besh and other A-list chefs. Dishes that are going to be placed in front of Tom’s regulars, regulars like Nicole Kidman and Robert DeNiro.

Expediter. Don’t know what that is? I didn’t. Watch this and then let me know if working with Tom as expediter is fun.

Content and/or other value provided by our partner, Bravo.

I didn’t think so either.

So, when the rubber meets the road and were the question seriously put to me, would I [as a chef of the level and skill of the three finalists] do it?

Yes.

Just keep a hospital bed at the ready for after I win.

The Process

The day that I watched Top Chef, we had Better Homes and Garden’s slow cooker Country Captain for dinner. That morning, I lazily skinned chicken thighs, sliced sweet peppers and onions and minced garlic.

While gazing at a cardinal out the kitchen window, I slowly layered the chicken and vegetables and then poured a combination of diced tomatoes and deliciously aromatic spices over everything in the slow cooker.

Then I put the lid on, pushed the ‘low’ button, washed my hands and walked away.

Six hours later, I spooned Country Captain over rice to a hungry family. My heart rate never got above 70 and other than when Dudette tried to show us her Gangnam style dance moves at the table, my blood pressure stayed where it was supposed to.

I opted to use all thigh meat instead of a combination of legs and thighs simply because we wanted to.

The Verdict

Our dinner didn’t consist of sweet breads, spot prawns, seared tuna or quail. It was chicken and vegetables. And it was delicious. All three plates were cleaned off. Even Dudette polished off her thigh with gusto instead of under threat of an early bed time.

I absolutely love the combination of curry, cumin and mace. Biting into the sweetness of the raisins was a perfect yang to the heat of the spices’ yin. For a dish that came together so easily and required so little attention, it’s phenomenal. I don’t think I’d have had to pack my knives.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

Not a thing.

Slow Cooker Country Captain vs. Bravo's Top Chef Stress
 
Prep time
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Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 medium sweet onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 3 pounds chicken drumsticks and/or thighs, skin removed
  • 1 medium green sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium yellow sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
  • ¼ cup currants or golden raisins
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca, crushed
  • 2 - 3 teaspoons curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • Hot cooked rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
Instructions
  1. In a 3½- to 4-quart slow cooker, place onion, chicken, sweet peppers, currants, and garlic. In a large bowl, combine undrained tomatoes, tapioca, curry powder, salt, cumin, and mace. Pour over all.
  2. Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2½ to 3 hours.
  3. Serve chicken mixture over rice. Sprinkle with green onion and almonds.

 

Warm Pumpkin-Blueberry Bread from Better Homes and Gardens Slow Cooker Special Interest Publication

There are, at the moment, at least two dozen robins hopping around the brown, dead grass that is my front yard. Since it’s raining, I think they’ll eventually leave with their plump orange bellies much rounder than they were to begin with.

These heralds of spring happen to be my favorite bird. I view them as the blue collar worker of the avian world. They dig in the ground, wear orange and brown flannel shirts and don’t talk much.

For those who are curious, yes, I place personalities on just about every bird. Cardinals are the sophisticated, classy group; well dressed, beautiful singing voices. Blue jays are cardinal wannabes. They try to dress just as well but can’t quite pull it off. Their voices are harsh with their mean gossip and back-stabbing.

So, who’s calling the funny farm to come take me away? This is what having a desk near a window does to a person. I could go on, you know. Finches, Canada geese, bluebirds, woodpeckers, wild turkeys and hawks all make their way to my window.

In fact, there’s a bluebird couple checking out the house nailed to a tree at this very moment. A flock of them have replaced the robins. The pair who settle in the house will nest, they will make babies and I’ll spend more time watching them come and go than doing the work I should be doing. Such is the cycle of life.

The truth is, however, that I can’t think of a good segue from birds to pumpkin bread. The birds were there and I really like them so I thought I’d share what I was seeing and thinking. They don’t really have anything to do with pumpkin bread though.

Please forgive my segueless jump from story to process. It’s a bit like a flitty, flighty finch, I know.

The Process

Every time I make something not stew-ish in my slow cooker I have a big grin on my face. I’m really loving the variety of different ways to use this appliance that I’ve been introduced to in this Better Homes and Gardens issue. I think I saw a Fine Cooking slow cooker issue on the racks recently. I might just have to get my hands on a copy for March and see what kinds of fascinating and different dishes they came up with.

On to the bread for now, though.

I have to admit that when I think slow cooker, I think one bowl to clean. It’s one thing to use a skillet to brown meat. I can deal with that. To use multiple bowls in order to prep a dish for the slow cooker is a bit sigh-worthy.

For this bread three bowls are needed; a medium one for the wet stuff, a large one for the dry goods and a small one for coating the blueberries with flour. That is, three are required unless you use the emptied medium one for coating the blueberries (which is what I did).

The directions say to ‘spoon batter into prepared slow cooker.’ It’s not so much spooning as picking up the glob of batter/dough and dropping it in, then squishing it into place with fingers. It’s easy to think that something’s gone horribly wrong when seeing the consistency of the batter/dough, but don’t be concerned. It’s supposed to look that way.

What becomes difficult with such stiff batter/dough, however, is folding fresh blueberries into the stuff. Mine were frozen so I was able to just push them into the blob, but if they’d been fresh, they would have squished all over the place.

The blurb above the recipes says that this should have a biscuitlike texture. I cooked mine for exactly 2 hours because I wanted a more pumpkin quick-bread texture, and I got exactly that. I was happy.

The Verdict

Construction Guy made the mistake of asking Dudette if she like the Blueberry Zucchini Bread I make (I had given his wife the recipe and now it’s a family favorite at their house). With the word ‘zucchini’ hanging in the air, there was no way she was going to try this pumpkin-blueberry bread even though there wasn’t a hint of green anywhere near it. I didn’t even try.

However, Hubby, Construction Guy and I all agree that this is very, very tasty but way lacking in sweetness. It needs at least double the brown sugar, if not more. Two tablespoons doesn’t cut it, not even with maple syrup drizzled on top.

The recipe’s a keeper though. It’s delicious, easy and worth the two or three-bowl clean-up.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I’d up the amount of brown sugar to a 1/4 cup.

Warm Pumpkin-Blueberry Bread from Better Homes and Gardens Slow Cooker Special Interest Publication
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • ¾ cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup cold butter, cubed
  • ¾ cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ cup chopped pecans, toasted*
Instructions
  1. Coat a 4-quart oval slow cooker with cooking spray. In a medium bowl stir together pumpkin, half-and-half, and brown sugar; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl stir together the 2 cups flour, the baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the ¼ cup cold butter until pieces are pea-size. Add pumpkin mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until combined. In a small bowl combine blueberries and the 1 tablespoon flour; toss until berries are coated. Fold berries into flour mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into prepared slow cooker. Pour maple syrup and the 2 tablespoons melted butter over mixture in slow cooker; sprinkle with pecans.
  4. Cover and cook on high-heat setting for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Turn off slow cooker. Carefully remove lid so condensation from lid does not drip onto bread. Cover opening of slow cooker completely with paper towels; place lid on top. Cool for 30 to 45 minutes. Serve bread warm from slow cooker.
Notes
I'd up the amount of brown sugar to a ¼ cup.

 

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread from Better Homes and Gardens Slow Cooker Special Interest Publication

Remember when Trivial Pursuit was the game? I hated it. It may very well be the catalyst that sent me in the anti-table game direction.

I’m not good at storing useless, trivial facts. That’s my husband’s arena. Not only does he carry the guy-gene ability to spout off decades’ worth of statistics regarding the baseball/basketball/football team he’s watching, since he majored in U.S. history, he is knowledgeable of names and dates of people, places and events beyond what one would deem normal.

Me, I’ve got one trivial fact down pat. Which Middle Eastern country is the only one without a desert?

Care to hazard a guess? It’s Lebanon, the country in which my family lived for a few years in the late ’60s.

Because it’s sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on one side and mountains on the other, Lebanon has an amazingly tropical climate. Other than the occasional bombs and gunfire, it’s a paradise.

I carried home many fantastic memories and stories of our time overseas, but now that I’m a cook, one comes to mind whenever I grab citrus fruit. It may be about Lebanon, but it happened when we returned home.

My mother took me with her to the grocery store and she bought oranges. I was convinced that she was playing with me and that she was holding lemons, not oranges.

Lemons the size of oranges and oranges the size of grapefruit. That’s what a Middle Eastern country without a desert produces.

The Process

The prep for this bread/cake is similar to that of a regularly baked cake. The dry goods and wet stuff are mixed in separate bowls, then brought together. The batter gets poured into the slow cooker and that’s it.

The Verdict

I’m not sure why this is called a bread instead of a cake. True, it doesn’t have the tenderness and moistness of a cake, but it’s sweet and has a glaze like one.

The two guys that are replacing the ceiling in the foyer and my office were my first taste testers. One liked the bread/cake, but the other found it a bit dry for his taste. They both thought the flavor was very good.

Dudette doesn’t like the little poppy seeds (maybe because her father has told her that it’s ant poop) and her dramatic spit-out into the garbage was proof that this was no different.

Hubby and I both liked this. In fact, I’m wondering why I don’t have a slice in front of me to go with my cup of coffee. Yes, it is a little dry, but I’m guessing that’s what sends it to the bread side of baking.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I think I’d use lemon juice instead of milk to make the glaze just to give the bread/cake a little extra bite.

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread from Better Homes and Gardens Slow Cooker Special Interest Publication
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt or sour cream
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Coat a 4- to 5-quart oval slow cooker or a 4-quart round slow cooker with cooking spray. In a large bowl stir together flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together sugar, eggs, oil, yogurt, milk, lemon peel, lemon juice, and vanilla until sugar dissolves. Add sugar mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until combined (mixture should still be slightly lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared slow cooker.
  3. Cover and cook on high-heat setting for 1½ to 2 hours or until top appears set. Turn off slow cooker. Carefully remove lid so condensation from lid does not drip onto bread. Cover opening of slow cooker completely with paper towels; place lid on top. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife around edges of slow cooker; remove bread from cooker. Cool completely on a wire rack.